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Maine North Atlantic Institute awaking new perspectives with virtual events

Photo of Justin Levesque

For many people, the Arctic is an icy monolith. For artist Justin Levesque ’10, it’s a fascinating and dynamic blend of culture, commerce and climate.

That blend — of science and the humanities — is at the heart of a series of virtual events he is hosting in cooperation with the University of Southern Maine’s Maine North Atlantic Institute (MNAI).

The talks — a series of webinars titled, “MNAI Convenes” — bring together people, ideas, and scholarship while also highlighting the diverse ‘cultural connections’ between Maine and the North Atlantic.

“I try to bring two perspectives,” Levesque said. “All of these things in orbit around an issue help us think about Maine and the North Atlantic.”

In June, Levesque will bring artist Jill Pelto and scientist Jacquelyn Gill, an associate professor of Paleoecology & Plant Ecology at the University of Maine. Prior talks have had USM professors Libby Bischof, a historian and Osher Map Library director, and Donna Cassidy, a professor of Art and American & New England Studies. In May, the 2021 series kicked off with two sisters, Astrida Neimanis and Aleksija Neimanis, a feminist cultural theorist and a wildlife pathologist. Prior events are available for viewing online.

It all began with artist Ólöf Nordal, one of Iceland's most well-known artists. Her work was scheduled to be part of a large, in-person event in Spring 2020. When the global pandemic hit, the event went online.

“We pivoted to this digital webinar and it proved to be popular,” Tracey Meagher, a policy associate with the Maine Economic Improvement Fund. She and Levesque quickly put together a season of four webinars and MNAI Convenes was born.

For Levesque, changing perspective on the North Atlantic is his way.

A 2010 USM graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Art degree in photography, Levesque has visited the North Atlantic — and the Arctic — many times. 

In 2016, he created an installation based on his work with Eimskip shipping and its connection between Reykjavik, Iceland, and Portland. 

The installation resided in a shipping container that moved to several Portland locations, including the USM campus. While there, the work was viewed by students, faculty, staff and visitors to the university, including Maine Sen. Angus King and former President of Iceland Ólafur Grímsson.

In 2020, he created a permanent art installation in and around the METRO bus shelter on the Portland Campus. Appearing to melt in the sun, the shelter is adorned with arrows and circles in a vinyl collage of Arctic images, photographs Levesque took during several trips to the far north.

Levesque, who was one of three artists to be awarded funding from the National Endowment of the Arts to decorate one of the city’s shelters.

Learn more about the upcoming series of events on the MNAI Facebook page