Digital hat passed as work begins on Portland downtown mural

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PORTLAND — It isn’t uncommon for art to need patrons.

It’s just not what you expect as artist Will Sears begins a new mural on the wall that towers over Tommy’s Park at 80 Exchange St.

Building owner Jim Brady – the developer behind projects including the Press Hotel on Congress Street, the former Portland Co. property at 58 Fore St., and a planned boutique hotel at 1 Center St. – has a Kickstarter online fundraising campaign to help fund the work.

“We thought it would be an interesting way to spread the news and allow a wider range of people to learn about the project and support it,” Brady said May 2.

The webpage, at bit.ly/2J4aqwQ, has a fundraising goal of $20,000 by June 6. As of May 3, $4,100 had been raised.

With the total cost of the project approaching $90,000, Brady said he has also reached out to “other art philanthropists and supporters” for financial support.

The Kickstarter page also features a video of Sears creating the abstract design for the four-story wall. Brady said the painting process will be recorded, too, and added to make a full documentary.

Sears and artists Tessa O’Brien and Jenna Pirello began outlining the abstract design on the exterior wall May 1. Perched on a hydraulic lift, the trio worked across horizontal sections using what Sears called a “pounce pattern.”

The process involves marking the wall with chalk dabbed through perforated sheets of paper. Sections are then marked with numbers assigned to specific colors.

“This is a pretty ideal surface,” Sears said about his medium.

Sears, a co-founder of Better Letter, has extensive experience painting murals. The abstract design of the mural includes a palette of local colors he said can be seen an hour before sunset. It was approved by the city Historic Preservation Board in December 2018; the review was required because the building sits within a historic district.

The mural replaces the trompe l’oeil mural Scarborough artist Chris Denison created in 1986; it depicted the old post that once occupied the park space. Denison, who also created the former “peeling blueprint” mural at 48 Free St. in 1986, was part of the selection committee that selected Sears last fall.

Also on the committee were Brady, Julie Larry of Greater Portland Landmarks, businessman Cyrus Hagge, project coordinator Erin Hutton, and Jessica Tomlinson of Maine College of Arts.

It’s not just the mural that is being replaced. The entire exterior wall was rebuilt during what Brady termed a “gut renovation” of the building that included adding office space on the upper floors.

The online fundraising is new for Brady, who credited Hutton with coming up with the approach. 

“We want to encourage people to get behind the art,” he said. “It is an opportunity for us to broaden the audience base.”

Kickstarter contributors can also earn rewards. For $50, they get a signed thank-you note. For $100, they get a travel mug that will remind them of the mural design. And for $2,500, they get a seat at the table for a planned August reception and dinner at Union, the restaurant in Brady’s Press Hotel.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Will Sears and his team mark off sections of a wall at 80 Exchange St. in preparation for a new abstract art mural that will face Tommy’s Park in Portland.

Artist Will Sears and his staff on May 1 prepare the exterior of 80 Exchange St. facing Tommy’s Park in Portland for a new mural.

Artist Will Sears shows the schematic for the pattern of the abstarct mural he is painting outside 80 Exachange St.in Portland.

A rendering of the 80 Exchange St. mural by Will Sears incorporates hues and colors Sears said can be seen locally about an hour before sunset.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.