Please Stand (and put your face through a hole)

Downtown seats to be auctioned, next sidewalk attraction TBD
By Ethan Andrews | Oct 15, 2016
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Visitors to downtown Belfast Oct. 11 take advantage of benches shaped like a guitar, right, and a piano. After six years, more than a dozen Please Be Seated benches are being retired, to be replaced by cutouts of characters from Belfast history.

Belfast — Sit while you can. And imagine yourself as Miss Belfast or "the smallest man in the world."

The artist-designed "Please Be Seated" benches placed around downtown for the last six years are going away at the end of October, and with the exception of two recently donated to the city, they aren't coming back.

Taking their place will be placards depicting the bodies of notable characters from Belfast's history and a cutout for your face.

"Kind of put your face in Belfast history," said Breanna Pinkham Bebb, director of downtown business group Our Town Belfast, which has overseen Please Be Seated and hopes to do the historical cutouts.

Pinkham Bebb said the new project is still taking shape but will probably start with four characters, including Miss Belfast Eileen Fernald and Don Robbins, "a small person of local fame."

Other cutouts might feature parties at the coin flip used to decide whether the city should be named Belfast or Londonderry, along with more recent luminaries like Bern Porter, Belfast's first poet laureate.

Each cutout board will have historical information along with a complete photo of the historical personality, Pinkham Bebb said, "so you can see what the person really looked like."

Locations will be chosen for relevance, Pinkham Bebb said. Robbins' cutout might be outside the Belfast Co-op because he was a bouncer at the former Windsor Hotel, which stood on the site.

The project already has $1,500 in funding from a National Association of Realtors grant, "because projects like this, Realtors love," Pinkham Bebb said. "They make your place unique and special, a place people want to live."

Please Be Seated benches are being offered for sale through Our Town Belfast's website and Facebook page to raise more money for downtown beautification projects.

Please Be Seated grew out of EcoMotion, an earlier downtown interactive art project started by Waterfall Arts that featured kinetic bicycle-themed sculptures made by local artists. Museum in the Streets, an earlier downtown attraction that's still around, highlighted the city's fast-moving history with photos and blurbs about bygone downtown landmarks.

In the early 2000s, Belfast Bearfest put an ursine spin on the popular concept of having artists customize stock fiberglass animals and placing them in business districts. There were other downtown installations, including some non-historical cutouts.

The latest idea got a lukewarm response from the City Council, particularly from Councilor Eric Sanders, who said the cutouts seemed like a tourist attraction more fitting of Bar Harbor or Coney Island than Belfast.

Pinkham Bebb said later that Our Town Belfast's design committee was aware of that potential and picked the historical theme with locals in mind. "But it's still something that's fun for people who are visiting," she said.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Lindsay McGuire | Oct 19, 2016 16:17

While any attempt to place anything on the sidewalk other than something practical or informative could be construed as "tacky" or "trite", Belfast has earned the reputation of being a downtown full of creative, quirky, inventive and artistic citizens.  Whether you loved or hated the bears, the birdhouses or the benches, the sidewalk attractions give visitors something amusing as they stroll the downtown, and children something fun to play with as their parents roam our sidewalks.

I think the local history aspect of these elevates them from being a simple "sideshow" attraction, and contributes to the appreciation this town has of its evolution and the interesting people who preceded us in calling Belfast home.  I have seen similar ones in Vaison-la-Romaine and at Loches in the Loire Valley, so he is right in suggesting we are not alone in thinking this is a worthwhile venture for those visiting our town.

Each of these campaigns has been featured for no more than 2 or 3 summers in a row, so Mr. Corden need only blink and they will be gone.  If he has a better "way to go", he should join the Belfast Downtown Design Committee and share his creative ideas! I know that the committee would appreciate hearing from him.

In the meantime, I think this is a wonderful idea, and should take up a bit less sidewalk space than all the benches scattered around the sidewalks.  You see?  You can't please all the people all of the time!


Posted by: Gwen D Fraser | Oct 19, 2016 05:32

I grew up in Belfast, and have seen wonderful changes over the years.When the Benches were placed in town ,I thought what a great idea,they project a visual welcome,and an offer to sit and stay awhile in Belfast.I have seen many tourist making use of them. I think they should stay. Rather than put your head in a Hole which ,I think is a little tackie.


Posted by: Michael Corden | Oct 16, 2016 20:30

To those in favor of this face-in-hole idea, I apologize upfront because I don’t mean to be mean, but I am going to come down hard against it.

This is not a novel take on an old idea.  Quite the opposite.  It is a current fad running on the web (just google “face-in-hole”) that’s going to get very old and very trite very fast.

To those of a certain age – myself included – who have been around the country a bit, face-in-hole is far too reminiscent of cheap carnivals and desperate tourist towns way past their prime that little left but to peddle their faded glamour to the recipients of such “Greetings from” communications.    It doesn’t matter a bit how these face-in-hole boards are designed or whether the content is whimsical or serious.  The net effect is the same.

I have lived in major tourist town most of my life – Miami Beach during high school; Manhattan for the past fifty years – and so it’s not hard to discern and respond to the markers of “refinement” and the markers of “make-a-buck.”  As a graduate architecture student I also got a few lessons in how to intentionally “mark” a space one way or the other.  So be careful. I strongly recommend to those-that-will-decide that the face-in-hole route is definitely not the way to go.

One more thing.  That the National Association of Realtors supports the concept is not surprising.  Realtors profit mightily off of any kind of real estate churn.

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