New public arts project in the Portland Area

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Dionne Smith / Director of Photographery

By: Max Lorber, Arts and Culture Editor

Creative Portland is spearheading an initiative to adorn bus shelters in the greater Portland area with art installations designed by local creatives. The intention of the project is to use artwork to honor the racial and ethnic diversity within Maine, according to Creative Portland.

The foreign-born population in Portland went from 4,895 in 2000 to 8,767 in 2017 according to a report issued by the Portland city government. This increase is expected to continue. These public art installations are a creative way to reflect that demographic shift. The National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) approved Creative Portland for a $25,000 grant to begin the project, with Greater Portland Metro, the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG) and Waterstone Properties also contributing.

“Bus shelters are a ubiquitous but unnoticed part of our public transportation infrastructure,” said GPCOG Executive Director Kristina Egan. “This project elevates the shelters and transforms them into a wonderful canvas upon which to celebrate the diversity of our community.”

Creative Portland is curating the project with the help of representatives from the Portland Public Art Committee, Black Artists Forum of Maine, the USM Art Department, as well as curators from local museums, galleries and private sector investors. Submissions of written project proposals are being accepted through Creativeportland.com, with a December 15th deadline.

“Imagine a whole region of artistic and inviting bus shelters, created by emerging and established artists, who represent the high bar of excellence that Portland has to offer in the arts,” said Dinah Minot, Executive Director of Creative Portland.

The NEA, an organization that was integral to this public works initiative, distributed 57 awards totaling 4.1 million dollars to various cities throughout the United States. Creative Portland and the GPCOG conceived the project in 2017 and was chosen by the NEA to obtain a portion of the award money being distributed, according to a press release issued by Creative Portland.

“These awards made to organizations across the United States are a testament to the artistic richness and diversity in our country,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Organizations such as Creative Portland are giving people in their community the opportunity to learn, create and be inspired.”

The NEA is a federal agency that partners with state-level organizations, along with local leaders and philanthropists, to promote public access to the arts. The money received by Creative Portland and the GPCOG is the first in a series of grants that will turn the Portland area’s bus shelters into public art attractions.

Creative Portland and the board of curators for this project will select four design proposals based on aesthetic, theme and cost of installation. The location of the four bus shelters that will be furnished has not yet been decided. According to Creative Portland, these public displays are the first phase of a broader, regional objective. It is unclear if there are plans to continue beautifying bus shelters, or if there will be other public art initiatives.

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