Public art unveiled by Tree Streets community

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Logan Curit unveils one of the six panels created by artist Lis Janes for the green space at 198 Birch St. in Lewiston on Tuesday. The installation, titled “Pollinating the Tree Streets,” depicts local architecture, with pollinators such as honeybees and lunar moths forming unique patterns. Curit dug postholes and helped with other aspects of the installation. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — Downtown resident and artist Lis Janes counted down from three to one Tuesday as sheets were pulled to unveil six large panels of public art on Birch Street.

Local residents and those who played a role in the neighborhood project, most of them holding hot cider in the cold weather, oohed and aahed in unison. 

The installation, titled “Pollinating the Tree Streets,” is a series of 8-foot-tall panels depicting local architecture, with pollinators such as honeybees and lunar moths forming unique patterns. 

Janes told the crowd gathered Tuesday that the theme was chosen by the community, and to her, pollinators are a perfect metaphor for historically “unseen and undervalued labor” in the neighborhood. 

“The pollinators do not simply represent beauty,” she said in a statement. “Pollinators are essential workers in our food system, and represent the unseen labor required to keep our society alive.” 

The public art is the latest in a series of neighborhood improvement projects led by Healthy Neighborhoods, aiming to bring residents into the process of developing a neighborhood “transformation plan” as part of the city’s Choice Neighborhood Grant.

Lewiston recently became the first city in Maine to be awarded a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The main purpose of the program is to plan and eventually implement major housing improvements in the neighborhood, and also include green space redevelopment projects. 

The vacant parcel used for the public art, at 198 Birch St., is owned by the Raise-Op Housing Cooperative, which acquired it recently after a building was condemned and demolished there. 

Over 70 neighbors helped choose design patterns and paint the panels.

Janes is a member of the Raise-Op Housing Cooperative and lives directly behind the vacant lot being revitalized by this effort.

The artist’s panels aren’t the only thing on the lot. 

According to a news release on the event, flowers and two cherry trees were planted with help from Healthy Androscoggin and youth and participants from Lots to Gardens, a program of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center. 

The site also features a new kiosk constructed by the Take 2 program and a community bulletin board and benches. Next to the kiosk are two more items installed by the Root Cellar: a covered trash can and a dispenser of bags for dog owners to pick up after their pets.

“It’s already a place where many people bring their dogs. We understand that’s a valuable thing for this neighborhood, and we wanted to enhance that use,” Zachary Nolt, neighborhood resident and employee at the Root Cellar, said.

This is the second green space redeveloped by residents since the new community garden was established on Birch Street in June. The garden was also a project of Healthy Neighborhoods and placed on Raise-Op property. 

A door-to-door community survey was administered for both projects to receive feedback and ideas from residents.

Craig Saddlemire, Raise-Op coordinator, said the recent neighborhood projects will be used in the city’s upcoming Choice Neighborhood Grant applications as examples of the community already collaborating on meaningful projects. 

He said the organization would eventually like to see more housing built on the lot, but said until that’s feasible, they wanted to “put it to use in a way that benefits” the neighborhood. 

Paige Wagner, network organizer for Healthy Neighborhoods, who also spoke Tuesday, said those involved are hoping the planning part of the Choice Neighborhood Grant will be complete next spring. 

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