Art walks are held in Belfast, Rockland, Gardiner and Bar Harbor and elsewhere across Maine from Portland to Presque Isle. The new ArtWalk Maine website — artwalkmaine.org — is designed to help visitors and residents discover the creative communities and artists of Maine.

More than 80 art walks are held annually and 17 are offered in July alone. Art walks are self-guided tours, usually held on Friday evenings, that include some of the state’s world-class art museums and galleries, as well as intimate artist studios and exhibits in local businesses and cafés. Art walk participants may attend swank opening receptions and street performances or meet artists in their studios, where visitors can view works in progress or even participate in a hands-on workshop.

ArtWalkMaine.org offers visitors the possibility of discovering these great experiences by providing a dynamic and comprehensive view of Maine’s art walk landscape. The project is spearheaded by Five Rivers Arts Alliance, a local arts agency serving Bath, Brunswick and 10 nearby towns in the southern Midcoast region. Five Rivers sponsors two monthly art walks, and ArtWalk Maine grew from the desire to increase participation in these events and the knowledge that a collective effort would yield greater reach and success, not just for local artists, but for the state.

“We began this grassroots project as a way to strengthen communities through the arts,” said Harriet Mosher, executive director of Five Rivers Arts Alliance. “We want to enhance Maine’s reputation as an arts-rich destination and improve the economic benefit to the artists, businesses and communities these art walks represent.”

Not only do the art walks enliven downtowns around the state, showcasing Maine’s artists and artisans, they also provide a unique experience that is an integral part of the state’s There’s More to Maine campaign, said Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism. In February, ArtWalk Maine was presented with the Maine Tourism Award for Commitment to Creativity at the 2011 Maine Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Portland.

The project promotes Maine’s downtowns as arts destinations for visitors and for local art-lovers. The majority of towns offering art walks are part of the Maine Downtown Center’s Main Street Program. The project was made possible, in part by an Arts Visibility Grant from the Maine Arts Commission and also is supported by grants from Maine Office of Tourism, Maine Community Foundation and the Quimby Family Foundation.

ArtWalk Maine currently features tours in 16 locations — Bangor, Bar Harbor, Bath, Belfast, Biddeford, Boothbay Harbor, Brunswick-Topsham, Eastport, Freeport, Gardiner, Lewiston-Auburn, Peaks Island, Portland, Presque Isle, Rockland and Stonington. Since the start of the project, art walks have continued to pop up across the state. Portland’s First Friday ArtWalk remains the state’s largest and longest-running event.