LEWISTON — The city is seeing more inquiries about public art, and the influx has staff and officials playing catch-up on how to appropriately plan for and regulate incoming projects.

On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved a new project that will be installed outside Munka Coworking on Lisbon Street, but also initiated a review of the city’s previously approved process for handling public art.

The city has several projects in the pipeline, including an installation called “Ledgers” next to The Pub at Baxter; a mural project celebrating the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement, and more murals tied to the city’s Choice Neighborhoods effort.

City officials lauded the planned installation outside Munka Coworking on Tuesday, with co-owner Carl Sheline saying the project is meant to be a celebration for reopening following the pandemic.

But, according to a memo to the council from Heidi McCarthy, economic development specialist, while there has been “increased energy and momentum around public art in the city,” it has revealed “gaps in the existing public art plan, which creates confusion for those making art proposals as well as making it more difficult to evaluate projects in a timely manner.”

In 2019, the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce was awarded a $75,000 public art grant that produced two installations in downtown Lewiston and Auburn, as well as a process to create a public art plan for the cities.

In Lewiston, the plan was approved in late 2019, and an interim “public art working group” has been fielding all projects in the pipeline since. However, according to the staff memo, while the plan addresses “a basic framework for consideration of artworks in the city, there are several gaps” that need to be addressed for installations to move forward smoothly.

“The current plan does not distinguish between the different scenarios under which public art may come to the city,” the memo states, including as a gift from an artist or commissioned by the city. Most considerations have to do with siting and maintenance, and the memo states that staff at Public Works and Code Enforcement may need to be involved earlier in the process.

“The (public art working group) has realized that it does not have the capacity to both address the myriad new and existing requests (some of which are time-sensitive) and build upon the Public Art Plan in a thorough and thoughtful way,” the memo states.

McCarthy said Tuesday that L/A Arts has offered to assist the city in updating the plan.

Artist Andy Rosen’s installation “Ledgers” will place a series of fox sculptures in the canal next to Baxter Brewing Co. in Lewiston. It’s slated to be complete by late summer. Submitted image

At Munka, Sheline said Public Works staff conducted a site visit to discuss maintenance concerns. He said he’s been happy with the process.

The design, done by Lewiston artist Melanie Therrien, will depict a scene in which a can of yellow paint has spilled on the sidewalk while painting a sidewalk bench.

Sheline said the piece, with the working title of “Damn, we were almost finished,” is supposed to be “fun and whimsical and almost believable.”

“I’m excited to see the councilors and city staff place a renewed emphasis on public art and we’re happy to be a part of that,” he said Wednesday. “You can’t have a vibrant city without public art.”

While the council voted unanimously on both the Munka project and revisiting the public art plan, Councilor Michel Lajoie said he’s concerned about the maintenance of future art projects at a time when the city is short-staffed.

According to McCarthy, Dufresne Plaza on Lisbon Street is the likely site for the women’s suffrage mural, which came from a National Endowment of the Arts grant to commemorate the centennial of the 19th amendment.

She said the artist and Public Works staff are confident the site will work, but there is a site visit Friday to confirm.

As the city works on ordinance language to oversee the use of murals in Lewiston, Michael Dostie, board chairman of the Downtown Lewiston Association, has questioned how much oversight city staff should have.

He said the downtown association is meeting with city staff next week to voice concerns with the proposed language so far.

During a June 15 council workshop, Dostie said an earlier inquiry from the association about a mural project “was a rather unpleasant experience.”

He told the council that Planning and Code Enforcement “completely ignored” the association’s feedback on the proposed ordinance, and that those departments should not be leading the process surrounding public art projects.

David Hediger, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, said the city is trying to “stay out of the public art process,” but that recommendations were based on murals and other art on private property.

“It’s really advisory in nature,” he said. “We’re trying to make it simple.”

Councilor Luke Jensen previously said that if he had to choose between the current system and one that’s “almost out of control” with murals frequently popping up, he’d rather have the latter.

“I don’t think that would be the worst problem for Lewiston to have,” he said.

Nick White, left, and his mother, Carol White, spend time in front of the Centreville parking garage in Lewiston in March. Detroit muralist Arlin Graff painted the mural of a zebra in 2018 for the Build Maine conference, one of the first high-profile pieces of public art in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.