The best way I can think of to describe The Sacred & Profane, an annual art experience held on Peaks Island, is this: If the Pompidou Center (museum of modern art in Paris) were to set up an exhibition on Peaks Island, this is what it would be like.
It started at the ferry landing off of the 2:45 p.m. boat where we were greeted by a devil with a super-sized pitchfork wearing a yellow rain slicker. Attendees grouped together and walked up Welch Street and then up Brackett Street toward the center of the island. A handful wore costumes and played the role of ghoul or forest nymph. Most wore boots and jeans and fleeces—and carried backpacks. The outdoorsy hippie type.
A few of the characters were part of the show. A guy dressed like an antique aviator/photographer posed with his homemade camera.
A young guy in military attire stood statue-still and shoeless in a puddle. His image and the fall foliage reflected verbatim in the still water to create an effect as silencing and emotional as any national monument.
We lined up at the battery entrance and waited our turn to enter. During World War II, Battery Steele was a munitions bunker with two large guns pointed out at the Atlantic. Now it is owned by the Peaks Island Land Preserve. By day it is a tourist attraction. On summer nights it serves as teen party central. And once a year—on a Saturday afternoon right around the Harvest Moon, Battery Steele is transformed into The Sacred and Profane.
Ron and I hung back and waited our turn to enter—which required we walk the plank over six-inches of water. A family of beavers, which settled in this part of the island about five years ago, has caused a dramatic shift in the water table. Our crossing over the muddy puddle felt oddly symbolic—like a cross over the River Styx.
Inside, the bunker glowed. Votive candles lined its two-football field length. Ron and I squinted our way through the dank, explored from room to room. We viewed flickering neon, glowing lanterns, and psychedelic projections. The air felt cool and smelled like a brush fire raging through a cannabis farm. We heard poetry and rants.
Putting this event together was no easy feat. Participants included fine artists, performance artists, installation artists, sculptors, found object artists and musicians. There was music and food. Temporary wires were run to power projections and amplify sound.
But what’s most interesting to me was that there was no printed program, no one stood up to take a bow. This is because when S&P was conceived fourteen-or-so years ago, the idea was that the event should stand as a whole. Neither the event planners nor the individual artists would be called out in any way.
And then there is the issue of growth. The bunker can only accommodate so many people—and S&P attracts to capacity as is. If word got out—there would be too many people to handle. So information about S&P is held close as Ryan Seacrest holds the American Idol votes tabulation prior to the live broadcast. There is no publicity, no web site, no sponsors. If you want to find out the date, you have to ask around.
I’m lucky because while I don’t know anyone directly, I do know a couple of people who know some people…