LEWISTON — Downtown Lewiston may be a bit more colorful by the time the annual Build Maine conference kicks off this year.

Heading into the 2018 version of the conference in June, organizers are bringing in national street artist and muralist Arlin Graff to create a mural on the side of the Centreville Garage off Pine Street.

The City Council gave its blessing for the project last week, and an ad hoc committee will help shape the content of the mural because it’s on public property.

At the same time, a group of local artists will paint another mural on a nearby private property.

The annual Build Maine conference brings together professionals in planning, architecture, design and engineering, and often features a visible element in the downtown. For last year’s event, a large section of Lincoln Street was transformed with a new traffic pattern, crosswalks and bicycle lanes.

Build Maine organizer Kara Wilbur said this year’s event will put an emphasis on public art, as well as tangible projects cities can do to beautify and create distinct downtown places.

The idea, she said, heading into this year, was to gather a mix of national and local artists to create new projects downtown.

“A lot of cities and towns that have done a good job with their mural efforts have focused on having that kind of mix,” she said.

After receiving the go-ahead from city officials, Wilbur said organizers were able to secure Graff to take part in the project. She said bringing in a national muralist can promote the city where the artwork is created. If people look up Graff, or are already following his art, they’ll see that he’s working in Lewiston.

Graff, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil and based in Detroit, has created dozens of mural projects globally, from the walls of public city structures to the headquarters of large businesses like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Build Maine will use $7,000 from its annual conference fundraising to pay Graff, which includes the cost of paint, Wilbur said.

Planning for the projects has been fast-paced, Wilbur said.

The City Council voted unanimously to support the project last week. At an earlier workshop, City Administrator Ed Barrett called the Centreville garage area “not exactly the most architecturally beautiful part of the city,” bolstering the argument that a public art project could be beneficial.

Build Maine will be held June 15 at Bates Mill. According to Wilbur, the plan is to have the murals finished in time for the conference.

“This year we’re giving the gift of lasting art,” Wilbur said about the mural.

Carl Sheline, whose business Maple Way Dental faces the garage, will be part of the committee making decisions on the mural. It will also include Adilah Mohammed, vice president of L/A Arts, Sheri Hollenbeck from the Union of Maine Visual Artists and Mayor Shane Bouchard. Hollenbeck is also taking the lead on the mural curated by local artists.

At the April workshop, Sheline said he’s excited there could be artwork of some sort on the garage, and said “it would be great” to have the local business that would be viewing the mural “on a daily basis to have some involvement.”

Misty Parker, economic development specialist in Lewiston, said in her memo to the council that this year’s Build Maine conference will be focused on demonstrating small projects communities can undertake to build a stronger sense of place.

“The arts are a huge opportunity to do just that,” she said.

She said Build Maine is proposing to demonstrate how local artists can be engaged in developing murals, as well as how communities can attract outside artists to come to their community.

Some cities, including St. Petersburg, Florida, have made street art a tourist destination in downtown areas. Graff and a number of street artists took part in the city’s annual mural festival in 2016, producing 21 new large-scale murals. The city now holds walking mural tours.

Build Maine has highlighted on social media the efforts of an active group of local artists who have painted fire hydrants and creative crosswalks in downtown Lisbon Street, with plans for more.

Wilbur said a two-hour lunch break during the conference will serve as a showcase for the ways cities can “activate” their public space, which may include a pop-up food and beer garden, street games, and of course, the public art on display.

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A mural in St. Petersburg, Florida, is by street artist Arlin Graff , who has been commissioned to create a mural on the Centreville Garage in Lewiston. (Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times) 

Organizers of the Build Maine conference taking place in Lewiston in June received the city’s permission to paint a mural on the side of the Centreville Garage, right, off Pine Street. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

 – To view Arlin Graff’s art, go to www.arlingraff.com

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