Portland panel ready to amend rules governing temporary art

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PORTLAND — The Public Art Committee will again discuss final revisions to rules governing temporary public art displays at its 4 p.m. meeting Wednesday at the Portland Public Library.

The revisions are largely centered on public notification about applications for exhibits in place for no more than a year. They will be forwarded in a communication to the City Council on Feb. 1., although council approval is not required.

“I am very pleased with how the committee ended up,” Councilor Ed Suslovic said Jan. 13.

The rules as proposed for an application or a one-year extension of a permit require a review panel to hold a public meeting on the application, publish notice of the meeting on the city website, and notify abutters and neighborhood groups of the application.

Notification can be made through the mail, email or the city website, and will “be determined on a case-by-case basis.”

All notifications must be carried out by city staff, as opposed to the volunteers on the commission.

The changes also require the review panel of committee members and city staff to consult with “the relevant councilor(s)” about which stakeholder groups “may be invited to provide input during the review process.”

Suslovic said that clause was included to determine how to get the most involvement.

“My reading on it is, it is designed to bring more of a collaborative nature to the process,” he said. “I know I was not looking for veto power or should a councilor have veto power.”

The rule changes are not as sweeping as those suggested by Suslovic after an illuminated memorial to the six victims of the Nov. 1, 2014, fire at 20-24 Noyes St. became a source of contention for neighbors of Longfellow Park.

The “Stars of Light” memorial of six wire sculptures was created by local artist Pandora LaCasse after a committee led by Ashley Summers, the widow of one of the victims, raised more than $8,000.

The committee applied to display the exhibit beginning Nov. 1, 2015, as part of the service marking the first anniversary of the fire. The exhibit also required connecting electricity in the park, tucked between Noyes, Longfellow and Oakdale streets, to illuminate the sculptures in a linden tree.

After the city initially billed the Noyes Memorial Committee more than $3,000 for installing the power in a trench, all charges were eventually waived, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Jan. 15.

Grondin said City Manager Jon Jennings “simply wanted to resolve it and move on.”

Carol Schiller, president of the University Neighborhood Organization, said the proposed rule changes unfairly target the Stars of Light memorial and could blunt input from citizens about public art.

“I feel the element of vindictiveness is already there,” she said.

Schiller also questioned why illuminated sculptures in trees at Bramhall Hall Square at Congress Street and Deering Avenue were approved without review.

“The lights in Bramhall Square fall under the category of holiday lights, which are allowed to be installed from Thanksgiving until Feb. 14,” Grondin said.

Those sculptures are also solar powered and did not require city labor for installation, she said.

The Stars of Light display, which can be illuminated from dusk-9 p.m., drew objections from neighbors, including John Rolfe and School Board member Laurie Davis, because of its immediacy and what they felt was a lack of notification about the exhibit.

Schiller and Summers said the committee publicized its meetings beginning about a year ago, but Suslovic said the rule changes reflect a lack of collaboration on the Stars of Light.

Suslovic had sought retroactive changes to June 1, 2015, that would have required notifying people living within a 250-foot radius of a proposed exhibit.

“What I came in with may have been too sweeping,” he said.

Last month, Public Art Committee Chairwoman Lin Lisberger said four or five temporary art display applications are usually received annually, and displays are not municipally funded. The first rules for temporary art displays were created in 2013. 

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

Illuminated memorial sculptures in Portland’s Longfellow Park, and the electricity required to light them, were a source of contention and the impetus to revise city rules on temporary public art displays.

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.