Portland councilor suggests rule changes for temporary art apps

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PORTLAND — Amendments to the city Public Art Committee rules on temporary public art exhibits are meeting with mixed reviews.

“I don’t want to stand in the way of temporary public art,” District 3 Councilor Ed Suslovic said Dec. 3 about his suggestions to create more public input when permitting displays for 30 days or more.

Committee members will meet Dec. 16 at 4 p.m. at the Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square.

Committee Chairwoman Lin Lisberger said Dec. 3 she is uncertain how far the committee may go in discussing Suslovic’s suggestions, which includes requiring notification by mail of all property owners within 250 feet of a proposed display site and public comment at committee meetings before a permit is granted.

Suslovic said the suggestions came after the contentious process of placing a memorial display in Longfellow Park on Noyes Street, less than a block away from the site of the Nov. 1, 2014 fire that killed six people. Longfellow Park is in District 3, and Suslovic said he had worked on the amendments with the city Corporation Counsel’s office.

Lisberger said she envisioned notification being given through neighborhood associations, but said the committee already has a strong process for alerting people who may be affected by temporary art.

Suslovic has proposed the changes be retroactive to June 1, specifically to ensure any attempt by the Noyes Memorial Committee to extend its Stars of Light exhibit in Longfellow Park beyond its Jan. 30, 2016 deadline receives adequate public input.

“If someone wanted to build a garage on their property, it would have required more notification,” Suslovic said.

The memorial was installed for the first anniversary memorial service, held Nov. 1. Ashley Summers, the widow of victim Steven Summers, raised about $8,000, and had hoped the sculptures, set in a linden tree, would remain in place for a year. The memorial also required the city to install electric power in the park.

Before the installation was completed, some neighbors, including city School Board member Laurie Davis, objected to the exhibit and what they considered was a lack of public notice.

Longfellow Street resident Carol Schiller, president of the University Neighborhood Association, said Monday the proposed changes unfairly targeted the Stars of Light display and could put a damper on temporary public art in the city.

“The commission is made up of experts,” she said. “They had administrative authority to make the decision. They had good judgment and they used what they had always used.”

Rules for displays of temporary public art, which are not funded by the city, were developed in 2013. The review panel for temporary art includes a city staffer from the Department of Public Works, someone from the city Planning Department, a Public Art Committee member and a designated artist.

“What temporary art does for the city is make it more vibrant and attractive,” Lisberger said.

Along with the Stars of Light, Lisberger said temporary art displays this year have included the Unpack Project by artist Andy Rosen, touching up and creating new murals in East Bayside at Anderson and Fox streets, and an acorn sculpted in Deering Oaks Park by artist Anne Alexander.

Rosen’s work, on display through last month, placed wolves and a dog made of polyvinyl chloride and fake fur on pilings in the harbor near the Ocean Gateway Terminal.

“You never know when you are going to have things brewing, but it can be seasonal,” Lisberger said.

Suslovic said he is willing to work with the committee on revising the rules, and made a distinction between the Unpack Project and Stars of Light because of where the exhibits are sited.

“Public art can be very emotional and trigger strong responses,” he said. “In this case, it was magnified exponentially. The neighborhood was traumatized by the fire as well.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The Stars of Light memorial, seen Dec. 2, in Longfellow Park, memorializes victims of the Nov. 1, 2014 fire at 20-24 Noyes St. It has also prompted suggested changes in temporary public art display rules.

The Unpack Project by artist Andy Rosen placed wolves made of PVC materials on pilings near the Ocean Gateway Terminal as a temporary public art display from August through last month.

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.