Eastport rings in the new year twice— first at 11 p.m. (when it’s midnight in neighboring New Brunswick), with the drop of a big maple leaf and a round of “O Canada,” and then again at 12 a.m., with the drop of an 8-foot sardine and a brass band playing “Auld Lang Syne.” The celebration draws hundreds, and it reflects what Hugh French, director of Eastport’s Tides Institute & Museum of Art, calls “a certain quirkiness about the place.” French and his wife, Kristin McKinlay, started their eclectic arts organization 18 years ago “as kind of a challenge to see if we could pull it together here.” Tides has thrived, in fact, drawing substantial funding from national organizations, purchasing three downtown buildings, and launching a residency program that brings artists from all over the globe to a tiny island city connected to the mainland by a causeway.
French loves that Eastport is so compact and walkable. It doesn’t hurt that a newcomer who doesn’t mind the Down East isolation can find oceanfront property for under $200,000. “The idea of authenticity rings really true here,” French says. “I love the mix. I love to see fishing trucks going by every day just as artists are going by with their equipment. It’s one of those small, special towns that are becoming fewer and fewer in this world.”