BETHEL — Bethel residents Wade Kavanaugh and Cathy Lane briefed town officials Monday, about an upcoming Bethel Mural Project at the Gem Theater.

The Bethel Mural Project and Bethel Area Arts and Music have jointly raised near $30,000 to commission Maine mural artist Ryan Adams to make a community-based mural at the Gem Theater. The working title for the project will be “Words that Draw Us Together,” and mural work is expected to begin in June of this year.

Kavanaugh is a professional artist himself and said he believes having public art in the area is valuable for many different reasons.

“Having public art is important because it says that a community shares core values of empathy, inclusivity and belonging,” Kavanaugh. “Public art has the ability to craft a community’s identity.”

Kavanaugh also mentioned that several case studies have shown that public art has had a positive impact on local economies.

“Public art has been shown to increase property value and an increase in property value means more tax revenue for the town,” he said.

Kavanaugh noted that he expects the upcoming project to generate both positive and negative reactions, the latter being one of the reasons why they wanted to give town officials an overview of the mural project.

The Gem has had artwork displayed on, and out front of its building since last year and with it, there have been some complaints, a common one being that displays are in violation of the towns ordinance. Kavanaugh explained why neither the current work displayed or the upcoming mural work will  be in violation.

“It is important to establish that art is not signage,” he said. “There are two questions that help distinct the difference between what art and signage are, the first, does the art advertise something that the business sells? The answer is ‘no’. The second, did the building owner (Kavanaugh) tell the artist what to make, and again, the answer is ‘no’.”

Kavanaugh added that he has no idea what Adam plans on creating for a mural. A decision won’t be made on the design until after “months of involvement and engagement with local schools,” according to the project update Lane and Kavanaugh provided selectmen with.

Other business

In other news, selectmen briefly touched on a five-kilometer race the rotary club wants to hold in September on the Bethel Pathway. The event, which the rotary plans to hold both in-person and virtually, will be on Sunday, Sep. 19. The club wants to use the section of pathway from Davis Park to at least the Big Adventure Center building.

Select Woman Michele Varuolo Cole, also a rotary club member, said she supports the event but needs to know more details, specifically on parking and how the space will be shared with other members of the public.

Cole mentioned that there is an ordinance in place for the pathway and the ordinance language states that selectmen can grant access for special events to be held there via permit.

Cole also said that an application to use town property would have to be completed. She hopes that once the application is complete and more details are gathered, discussion can then be brought back to the board.

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