Labor mural not expected to land in Portland

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PORTLAND — The Maine labor history mural that was unceremoniously removed over the weekend in Augusta is not likely to find a home at Portland City Hall.

After originally considering accepting the 36-foot mural that Gov. Paul LePage ordered removed from the Department of Labor building, city officials quickly cooled to the idea.

That happened at about the same time Friday afternoon that the governor’s office issued a press release saying the city had accepted the mural, pending City Council approval.

City Councilor David Marshall said this week that after being approached March 24 by state Rep. Ben Chipman, I-Portland, about possibly displaying the mural at City Hall, he initially was open to bringing the issue to the council for discussion.

But Marshall soon changed his mind.

“On Friday I went to the protest up in Augusta,” said Marshall, who is a professional artist. “I called Pat (Finnigan, the acting city manager) and said, ‘We need to not participate in this.'”

While it was previously reported that the mural would be subject to a City Council public hearing and vote April 4, city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg confirmed this week that the item would not appear on the council’s agenda.

Councilor Dory Waxman said she does not think the city should get involved with the mural.

“That was not the intention of the Portland City Council,” Waxman said. “I think I can safely say that on behalf of all the councilors.”

Waxman also noted that there are rules for state-commissioned art, and those rules need to be explored.

“I really question whether it is the governor’s right to remove (the mural),” Waxman said.

Marshall called the governor’s offer of the mural a “Trojan horse” and said he supports legal action to determine whether LePage had the authority to remove the mural.

According to the Maine Peoples Voting Coalition, the 2-year-old mural was commissioned with a federal grant. The coalition is questioning whether the mural is therefore owned by the federal government.

Marshall said the mural, created by Judy Taylor, was commissioned by the Maine Arts Commission and is a product of the Percent for Art program.

“It went through a serious political process to get there,” Marshall said. “Anyone could have objected then and they did not.”

Mayor Nick Mavodones did not return a phone call seeking comment this week.

The governor ordered the mural removed because, he said, it is too one-sided in its depiction of the state’s labor history. The governor’s office has also referred to an anonymous fax it received that compared the mural to brainwashing techniques used in North Korea.

LePage’s decision has become national news and fodder for everyone from Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert to The New York Times, which ran a Sunday editorial that said the governor has “stooped to behavior worthy of the pharaohs’ chiseling historic truth from Egyptian monuments.”

The mural disappeared over the weekend. In a three-sentence statement from the governor’s office, little was revealed about its whereabouts. “The mural has been removed and is in storage awaiting relocation to a more appropriate venue,” the statement said.

Chipman, the District 119 representative, said he wanted the mural to remain at the Labor Department, where it was commissioned for display in 2008. He said Portland City Hall was an alternative to having it sold or put in storage.

Those comments came before he knew the mural was gone.

“I was not aware of that,” he said Monday. “I’m really disturbed they’ve been taken down.”

Artists who protested in Augusta last Friday have planned another demonstration for April 1 at noon in the Hall of Flags at the Statehouse.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @katebucklin