PORTLAND — The city is poised to select public art for its new Bayside Trail and is seeking opinions from the public.

The art is supposed to enhance the trail experience, stimulate creative thinking and “promote the public’s connection with the diverse communities” in the area.

One more thing: It must be comfortable.

The city wants the art to serve as benches, and it has $42,000 to commission three to five of them.

“People are pleading with us to make them comfortable,” said Alice Spencer, an artist on the nine-person “commissioning committee,” which will select the winner – or winners – in a design competition.

Funding for the project comes from the Portland Public Art Committee’s budget. The panel typically has an annual budget of $50,000 to $60,000. ordinance, the committee receives funding that amounts to 0.5 percent of the city’s annual capital improvement budget.

Because the art is classified as a capital expense, it must last at least 25 years, Spencer said.

Sixteen artists have submitted proposals, some of which don’t look like benches at all. One is shaped like an inverted clamshell. Another looks like a series of small waves and has troughs for sitting areas.

One artist has proposed a wooden bench that has the appearance of driftwood, with a pair of cormorants perched on top.

None of the artists has proposed using stainless steel and fescue grass – the materials in the unpopular “Tracing the Fore” landscape piece in Boothby Square. The Public Art Committee is considering removing and scrapping that piece because it is overrun with weeds and difficult to maintain.

While the committee proceeds with that contentious process, it’s glad to have a new project that’s more positive, Spencer said.

The committee is displaying the proposals in the Lewis Gallery of the Portland Public Library. The opening reception is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday. The proposals will remain there until Sept. 30. The public is encouraged to comment on the designs, by using cards that are available at the gallery.

There won’t be voting because art is not a popularity contest, Spencer said. Still, the public often gives information that improves the final design.

The names of the designers have been removed so the public and the committee won’t know their identities during the first round of the selection process.

City Planner Alex Jaegerman, a committee member, said the group will first select the top designs based on their artistic merits. The committee will then examine the details of the proposals and the artists’ capabilities, to make sure they can deliver.

The committee will make a recommendation to the Public Arts Committee in November. A public hearing is expected at that point. The City Council will have the final say, probably in December.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]