PORTLAND — One of the most controversial pieces of public art ever to be displayed in the city is on its way out.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday night against moving “Tracing the Fore” to the Fore River Parkway, near the Mercy Hospital campus.
Its recommendation will go to the city’s Public Art Committee, which now must decide how to dispose of the landscape sculpture featuring stainless steel waves.
In what turned out to be a busy night, the council also voted to not renew the Cactus Club’s liquor and special entertainment license. The Portland Police Department, citing poor management and several instances in which public safety was put at risk, had recommended that the licenses for the Old Port bar not be renewed.
City Councilor David Marshall, who is an artist and a member of the Public Art Committee, urged councilors not to support relocating Tracing the Fore.
“What we are trying to do tonight is to get some direction from the council,” said Marshall.
The Public Art Committee voted 7-3 in November to preserve the piece, preferably by moving it out of the Old Port to a new location.
“Is this a good idea? That’s why were are here tonight,” said Tony Muench, a member of the committee.
The council said no, meaning the sculpture simply will be dismantled.
Marshall said it would cost the city $30,000 to $50,000 to move the sculpture from its current location in Boothby Square to a Fore River Parkway site.
Property owners around Boothby Square said the sculpture, designed by a Boston artist, Shauna Gillies-Smith, is just plain ugly and looks out of place.
The Public Art Committee chose Gillies-Smith’s design in 2004, after a national competition, because it was mostly a natural approach to art – sculpted waves seeded with tall grass that would sweep over stainless steel forms representing the Fore River.
“The result was not what the council or the Public Art Committee ever intended,” Marshall said. “It has become the most challenging piece in our public art collection.”
“Like with everything. You win some, you lose some,” said Councilor John Anton, who said he doesn’t view the council vote as a repudiation of public art. Several councilors, including Anton, said they support public art.
Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said Gillies-Smith should be commended for her efforts, but, “I’m concerned with the amount of money that it would cost the city to relocate this.”
Monday’s hearing on whether to renew the Cactus Club’s liquor licenses took more than two hours.
Councilors voted 7-1 – with Mavodones dissenting – not to renew the Fore Street’s bar liquor and special entertainment licenses.
Cmdr. Vern Malloch, who is in charge of the Portland Police Department’s uniform operations, cited several instances of liquor violations, public disturbances and fights that police allege are linked to the club’s management.
“The police department has no confidence in the management abilities of the Cactus Club,” Malloch said. “The public’s safety in the Old Port would be greatly enhanced if the club were to be closed.”
The club’s owner, Thomas Manning, told the council that he was being singled out by police, given the volume of assaults and disturbances that occur throughout the Old Port.
Manning said he had to file a protection-from-harassment order against the department after he found out that officers in cruisers, parked across the street from his business, were videotaping his business.
That order was never enforced by the courts, Malloch said.
“This is our eleventh year of operation and all of a sudden we have poor management on our hands,” said Manning, who noted that none of his neighbors or patrons came to the hearing to support the police department’s allegations.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]