BIDDEFORD – With work on Biddeford’s RiverWalk expected to start by summer, community members and city officials are considering seven sites for public art along the route.

Incorporating art has always been a component in the planning process, said Alix Hopkins, RiverWalk’s project director.

“Public art helps to interpret a specialness and beauty of a place — helps (people) interpret it in new ways and adds so much to the experience because of that,” Hopkins said.

This evening, Maine Arts Commission Director Donna McNeil is expected to make a presentation at The Oak + The Ax on procuring and funding public art.

The city has a handful of pieces that are considered public art. One example, an installation by sculptor Aaron Stephans, is displayed at Biddeford Middle School, said Tammy Ackerman, co-founder of the Biddeford arts organization Engine.

A mural by Alex Kaminsky that spans an exterior wall of the New Morning natural foods store on Main Street was privately commissioned, but because of its visibility Ackerman said it could also be considered public art.

Preliminary sites for public art on the RiverWalk would cluster three pieces in Mechanics Park, a fourth near the intersection of Water and Main streets and three more farther up the river, near the mill buildings.

RiverWalk is being funded by a $500,000 state grant from the Riverfront Community Development Bond and a portion of revenue from the Biddeford Crossing tax increment financing district, said City Planner Greg Tansley. Some of the funds could be used for public art.

Tansley said McNeil’s presentation is an opportunity to begin a discussion on public art in the city.

“Anything’s possible at this point,” he said. “The city — city officials as well as residents — is just starting to learn about how (public art) could work for us.”

Tansley said the presentation will focus on procuring art, the process of funding it and the many issues that may arise throughout the process.

An example of those issues can be seen in Portland, where controversy has swirled around a piece of public art called “Tracing the Fore.” The installation in Boothby Square, in the Old Port, has stainless-steel cutouts shaped like waves planted in a bed of long grass.

Critics including merchants nearby so dislike the work that they complained to the city’s Public Art Committee and the City Council. The committee has voted to move it out of Boothby Square. On Monday night, the council rejected a proposal to install it elsewhere.

“It’s a leap of faith,” Hopkins said of the process of selecting public art.

As work moves forward on RiverWalk, Hopkins said, she would like to see an advisory group formed with representatives from the city, the Biddeford RiverWalk Coalition, Heart of Biddeford and Engine, as well as others in the community.

“The siting of each of the pieces has to take into account the location and the landscape and the history and the space. Not only the physical location, but the space itself, makes for a lot of wonderful possibilities,” she said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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