BELFAST – First there were bears. Now it’s birdhouses.
Following up on the popular Belfast Bearfest that kicked off the 21st century with whimsically designed fiberglass bears being displayed throughout the city, the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce and the Belfast Downtown Business Group are sponsoring the Birdhouses of Belfast as this year’s summer attraction.
The birdhouses will be mounted and displayed all over the city, from downtown storefronts to parks, docks and buildings. Organizers hope to have 1,000 birdhouses on display, so visitors can expect to encounter one no matter which direction they care to look.
“We want them everywhere,” said Karen Rak, owner of the downtown ice cream parlor Scoops. “We have permits from the city to put them in most of the public areas, and owners of downtown buildings have given us permission to put them there. We’re going to be everywhere.”
Rak said that, unlike the Bearfest, where local artists were commissioned to create the bears, anyone can take part in the Birdhouses of Belfast. Artists will be involved, she said, but the event is open to all.
In fact, local craftsman Carl Otley has created a wooden template of birdhouse pieces that people unfamiliar with the use of power tools can assemble for themselves. Rak said the committee has even lined up a team of volunteers who will assemble birdhouses for others to decorate.
The steering committee is encouraging all residents to participate in producing birdhouses, she said. Whether as artist-builders, supervisors of children’s birdhouse building projects, members of groups getting together to produce birdhouses or sponsors of artists building birdhouses, anyone is invited to play a part.
Rak said out-of-towners also were pitching in. Star Blue Antiques of Brooks has already filed an application for a birdhouse, and there is interest from others as well.
“We’re looking for birdhouse painters, birdhouse potters, designers, engineers, architects, metalsmiths, woodcarvers, birders, carpenters or just empty nesters,” to join the fun, she said.
Rak said delicate structures, such as the knitted birdhouse created by Helen Fahidi of the Yarn Shop, will be displayed in store windows. Sturdy models will be placed outside. Rak said she hopes to scatter 300 birdhouses on poles from one end of Belfast Common to the other.
As was the case with the Bearfest, maps identifying the location and creator of the birdhouses will be printed and left at stores throughout the city.
Birdhouse applications are available at The Jumble Shop, Out of the Woods, Scoops, Shamrock, Thistle & Rose, the Working Art Gallery, Perry’s Nut House, the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, Garden Cottage, Colonial Theater, Monroe Saltworks, Renys and Out on a Whimsey.
Rak noted that the steering committee has placed no limit on size or material of the birdhouses. Deadline for submission of completed birdhouses is June 19.
“We don’t have any rules except your basic good taste,” she said. “The fun part of birdhouses is that it doesn’t cost a great deal of money to put one together. We want people to use their imaginations.”
First, second and third prizes will be awarded for the “quirkiest,” the “most habitable,” and the “most popular” birdhouse in four categories: Professional, amateur, children (age 11 and under), teens (ages 12 though 17) and organizations.
When asked what would happen if birds actually move into the birdhouses, Chamber of Commerce president Joanne McNally replied, “They better hurry up, interest rates are going up.”
Installation of the Birdhouses of Belfast will be completed by July 3 with removal by Oct. 15. The birdhouses will be placed at auction on Nov. 5 at the Boathouse. Auction proceeds will be used to fund next year’s themed festival. For information, call 338-5900.