Portland seeks interesting, but not distracting, art for roundabout near USM

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PORTLAND — A new public art display will come to the city in a roundabout fashion.

The shape it may take will be discussed by the USM Public Artwork Selection Committee at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 28, in Room 423 of the Glickman Library at the University of South Maine, 514 Forest Ave.

The meeting follows a March 21 Selection Committee meeting at USM, where city Urban Designer Caitlin Cameron asked about a dozen attendees for their thoughts on how the art should be viewed, whether a selected artist should have a Maine connection, and whether the work should be illuminated or in motion.

The five-member Selection Committee, a subcommittee of the city Public Art Committee, includes local artist Daniel Minter along with Diana Greenwold, associate curator of American art for Portland Museum of Art.

Cameron said the Selection Committee is expected to make its recommendation to the city Public Art Committee in May or June. A budget would then be presented to the City Council, with design development beginning in July.

The roundabout is scheduled for construction in 2020 at the intersections of Brighton and Deering avenues and Falmouth Street. The art would be installed in the center in summer 2020.

The City Charter requires 0.5 percent of the annual capital improvements bonding to be spent on public art. Cameron said there is now $30,000 on hand for roundabout artwork, and the budget could reach $70,000. The roundabout itself is estimated to cost $2.87 million.

The public art would be the second recent installation as a part of road reconstruction.

Last year, the city installed sculpted street lamps at Forest Avenue and Woodford Street as part of the reconstruction of the Woodfords Corner intersection. Artist Aaron Stephan was paid $25,000 for the street lamps, installed at a cost of $5,000 by the city Department of Public Works.

The goal is having art that is “visually interesting while not distracting to drivers in cars, but should also be engaging to pedestrians,” according to the March 21 presentation.

Minter said the artwork should not fully block views through the center of the roundabout, should provide different perspectives from various angles, and could also be illuminated.

The concept of kinetic art, or art that moves, “excited” the Selection Committee, Greenwold said. She also found it more likely art would be commissioned, instead of purchasing work that’s already been created.

If the selected art is illuminated, the cost would be part of the budget at hand, Cameron said.

Whether kinetic art would be allowed by the state is not certain, but neighborhood resident Mike Eling said it would serve as a good cue for drivers approaching the roundabout.

Conversely, neighborhood resident Judith Sobol worried one larger piece would be too distracting, and suggested having several smaller pieces.

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

An overhead view of the planned roundabout at Brighton and Deering avenues and Falmouth Street in Portland, near the University of Southern Maine. The city could spend as much as $70,000 for art at the center of the circle.

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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.