Portland, Maine, USA, and Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece became Sister Cities in 2003. The formal vote by the Portland City Council on the Sister City Resolution was held on Monday, October 20, in Council Chambers.
The Sister City relationship was suggested by members of the Hellenic Society of Maine, and has continued to be supported by the group. The purpose of the Sister City Relationship is to promote world peace and international cooperation by establishing close and continuous ties between two world communities that already have several strong connections and much in common.
Both cities are located on the sea, in the northeast corner of their countries, in areas known for being environmentally clean, green and beautiful. Both are ports and are the economic, cultural, medical and legal centers of their region. Both have an important, growing university and other schools that give them a young and vibrant feel and a talented workforce. Both were established early in their country’s history, and are associated with historic and modern artistic and literary talent. Both are in areas that rely on tourism and natural resources for a good portion of their economy, whose people are known for their independent spirits.
HSoM celebrates Sister City 10th anniversary
It was a great evening! Our annual Holiday Social on December 5, 2013 at Cinque Terre in the Old Port, was combined with a 10th anniversary party – an event to mark the milestone in the Sister City relationship between Portland, Maine and Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece. Preceding this event, letters of congratulations were exchanged (with the help of HSoM member Nicos Provatas in Mytilene) between Mayor Michael Brennan and the Mayor of Mytilene, Dimitrios Vounatsos, who also sent gifts of books and copies of Mytilene City medallions to Mayor Brennan and HSoM president, Mary Snell.
For the anniversary social we were honored to have as our special guests Mayor Brennan, and Portland City Council members Nick Mavodones and Ed Suslovic, as well as Neale Duffett, a representative of The Archangel Committee for our Russian Sister City. Sister City relationships are an important way for ordinary citizens of a city to come in contact with the people of another country and, through continual engagement, learn about their society, their politics, economics and culture. These kinds of friendships, we believe, promote world understanding and thus peace on a most basic level.
Our growing relationship with Mytilene was formalized in 2003 when, on October 17, a reception for a delegation from Mytilene was held in the State of Maine Room of Portland City Hall. Three days later the delegation attended a Portland City Council meeting at which the Council voted to establish the Sister City relationship. Reciprocal delegations from Portland visited Mytilene in 2004 for a formal signing in that city, and again in 2006 when the Hellenic Society of Maine sent 80 books in English for one of Mytilene’s libraries. Former mayor Mavodones had the pleasure of being a member of both delegations.
The Sister City relationship has included visits by Greek artists including the Mytilene Municipal Orchestra under the direction of Nikos Tsirigotis who accompanied early delegations as we explored a possible Sister City (2000, 2002); and the tapestry weaving artist, the late Sophia Tata (2003) who gave workshops and an exhibition in collaboration with the USM/Aegean Arts & Cultural Exchange.
Maine artists who have visited Mytilene in the past 10 years have included pianist Anastasia Antonacos (2004); the Maine Street Jazz Quartet (2005), in collaboration with the USM/Aegean Arts & Cultural Exchange; and Jeff and Lydia Badger, artists and curators of the exhibition Portes (2012), a show of works on paper by 50 Maine artists.
Sister City Art Exchange
Jeff Badger, an artist, curator, and chair of the Art Department at the Southern Maine Community College, has developed an idea to share Portland’s vibrant art scene with its international Sister Cities. Badger has attracted some of the greater Portland areas best artists who have agreed to submit works on paper for such a traveling exhibit through his Maine Art Exchange (MAE) program.
The first Exchange will take place in Mytilene, Lesvos. Hellenic Society of Maine and MAE have arranged for the exhibit to travel to Mytilene in June 2012 as part of the island’s celebrations for 100th anniversary of the annexation of Lesvos to Greece. HSoM board member Judith Allen Efstathiou and her artist daughter, Eirene of Athens, will join Badger in having works in the show. Other artists may include Dozier Bell, Hilary Irons, Lauren Fensterstock, Aaron T Stephen, Bennett Morris, Clint Fulkerson – and many others.
The works will be exhibited for a week in the upper gallery area of the Mytilene Public Theater on the quay in Mytilene, with an opening reception tentatively scheduled for Friday, June 8, 2012.
Past Official Visits
There have been several official delegations:
1998 • A visit to Maine and Boston of the Minister of the Aegean, Elizabeth Papazoi, the highest level Greek official to ever visit Maine. She was in Portland to express continuing support for the USM/Aegean Arts & Cultural Exchange. She also held a number of meetings and attended an official dinner for her at Harvard University in Boston in cooperation with the Kokkalis Program at the Kennedy School of Government. Mrs. Papazoi later served as Minister of Culture, and Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece.
2000 • The first visit by any Mayor of Mytilene — Mayor Nasos Yiakalis and his wife, and the Governor of Lesvos, Demetrios Vounatsos came to Portland accompanying the Municipal Orchestra of Mytilene, (DEPTAM) that gave a performance of Greek music at USM. The Mayor of Mytilene and a representative the City of Portland, councilor Nikos Mavodones, met and first discussed a Sister City relationship.
2002 • A four-member delegation and members of the City Orchestra from Mytilene (DEPTAM) came for a four-day visit in March. Included were the Mayor of Mytilene, Nassos Yiakalis and his wife; and several Mytilene City Council members who held meetings with the director of the International Trade Center, and the Mayor of Portland at which time they agreed to a Sister City relationship. During this visit, HSoM and the USM School of Music hosted the lecture/concert on a style of music born of the Greek diaspora – rembetika. Greek music expert Gail Holst-Warhaft from Cornell University gave a lecture; and the concert featured an eight-member ensemble direct from Greece. The musicians also performed for music students in recital class and gave an informal workshop. The event drew a bus of Greek-Americans from New York City who came to Maine specifically to attend. The lecture and concert was repeated a few days later at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, and again that summer in Mytilene, Lesvos.
2003 • The official delegation visit in October included Mayor Aristidis Chatzikomninos and wife Maria; City Council members Gerasimos Vevetas, and daughter Sapfo, Nikolaos Katranis, Ilias Kouniarellis; plus artist Sophia Tata. They and members of HSoM attended the official adoption of the Sister City Relationship Resolution, then a reception in the State of Maine Room where speeches were given and gifts exchanged.
Weaver Sophia Tata was the sixth artist selected for the USM/Aegean Arts & Cultural Exchange program between the University of Southern Maine and the Ministry of the Aegean, Republic of Greece. She was born on Lesvos and made her winter home in Athens. She died in 2010. Tata was awarded a grant from the Ministry of Culture to study with master craft women to learn the traditional art of dyeing fibers with natural plants. She developed a palette of more than 300 natural colors using native plants of Greece. With her colorful fibers, she wove evocative tapestries with images and landscapes from all over Greece, including her native island. Tata was in residence at USM’s Art Department in Gorham for a week where she gave several lectures/workshops on weaving and dyeing, and where a small collection of her tapestries were exhibited in Kidder Gallery in Robie/Andrews Hall.
2004 • We sent an official delegation including Portland City Council member Nicholas Mavodones; Richard Pattenaude, President of the University of Southern Maine, and his wife Michele; Rachel Talbot Ross, Portland Sister City Coordinator, and Anastasia Antonacos, concert pianist and faculty member of the USM School of Music. In addition, HSoM members present were Nikos Minadakis, Mary Snell, Prof. Irwin Novak, Taxia and Dr. James Paras, and Prof. Dorothea Klimis Zacas and Miltos Zacas.
2007 • A second Portland delegation including Mayor Nicolas Mavodones and wife Kelly, a school principal; Director of Sister City Programs, Rachel Talbot Ross, and her fiancé Dawud Ummah, Muslim chaplain for USM; returned for a second visit in June 2007. The primary purpose for the visit was to participate in the presentation of a shipment of books in English to the Mytilene City Library — a project of the Hellenic Society of Maine, “Culture Through Books.” The project hoped to provide citizens of Mytilene with resources to read about American literature, poetry, history, culture, etcetera, in the original language. It is hoped that school children learning English and their teachers will especially benefit. The books were gifts from individual citizens and institutions in the City of Portland, and beyond.
In addition to the library event, Mayor Mavodones was interested in discussing port security issues, as well as issues concerning development and growth of the port. The delegation visited two elementary schools. Also participating were several Hellenic Society of Maine board members Mary Snell, Prof. Irwin Novak, Prof. Dorothea Klimis Zacas, Miltiades Zacas, and Taxia Paras and family.
With support from both cities and the Hellenic Society, we hope future programs will include continuing artist exchanges in music, theater, dance and the visual arts; educational opportunities and exchanges; medical and health-related exchanges; business and trade endeavors; and youth/amateur athletic exchanges.