BELFAST—An old 1980s Toyota Huntsman camper van that had been sitting in Larraine Brown’s backyard for about a month has come back to life as a traveling art van. Rechristened “Betty The Brilliant ArtVan,” the camper is like a Bookmobile, only with art.
Brown, a board member of the Belfast Area Community Coalition, dba Artivism In Maine (AIMe), is candid about Betty’s origins.
“It was a bad buy,” she said, “A bad decision, so after it had been sitting there for so long, we thought, ‘What could we do with it?’ ”
Belfast Area Creative Coalition has undergone a two-year cultural planning process to ascertain what residents wanted and needed and one of the biggest needs to come out of that study was more access to the arts.
However, with the Covid-19 pandemic hindering their initial plans, the group, like so many other businesses, had to re-think the mission and started to strategize how they could bring art outdoors to the people instead of the initial model of bringing people all indoors for the art.
Betty is named after one of Waldo County Commissioners, Betty Johnson, who is a tireless supporter of the arts.
Belfast artist Krista Odom, who has done murals at the BelfastMaskers, was tasked with overhauling her exterior “look.”
“We were standing in Larraine’s yard, trying to think of what to paint Betty as this beautiful rooster and hen were walking around,” said Odom. “And as we were trying to think of what to paint Betty, Larraine pointed to the rooster and hen said, ‘Let’s paint them and do the colors of outside.’”
The result is a whimsical, naturalist folk art mural of woodland animals, trees, meadows, and flowers on one side of the van. The other side is populated by outsider art and child-made art consisting of drawings and word expressions.
“It’s taken most of the pandemic to paint it,” said Odom. “And it’s still a work in progress.”
Betty also benefited from the assistance of craftsperson Norman Kehlig, who founded HIIT, Helping Incarcerated Individuals Transition, with dozens of volunteers helping to refurbish Betty’s infrastructure.
This past year, Betty has been driven to 15 places, from soup kitchens to Kids Unplugged, a play center in Belfast to art centers.
“We hire musicians, dancers, and performers to meet us there,” said Brown. “They come out of the van and spill out with art. We also have arts and supplies for both adults and kids to use while Betty is there.” Betty’s facilitators also provide musical instruments on their outings for impromptu jam sessions.
“We’re also planning on recording stories in 2022,” said Brown.
The community’s response to Betty has been joyful after a long year and a half of living in lockdown.
Betty will be going out for rides in neighborhoods throughout Belfast and Waldo County during the holiday season, bringing gifts, games, art supplies, music and more to the neighboring communities.
“We’re also taking up collections for backpacks for kids with art supplies, hats, and mittens in them, so we can distribute them on our next rounds.”
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org