AUGUSTA — Downtown Augusta has plenty of historic architecture, but when it comes to public art, it is a relatively blank canvas.

Multiple groups of people, each led by at least one artist, plan to change that this summer by painting murals on some of the most highly visible, if now pretty plain-looking, building walls in the downtown.

What the murals will feature for artwork is still evolving. Organizers say they are intentionally avoiding having a common theme running through them, favoring variety that they hope will bring vibrancy and visitors to the downtown, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year.

“Study after study has shown arts and culture are a great vehicle for economic development,” said Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance. “If you improve the way your downtown looks, it improves the way people see it. And we need a little bit of vibrancy downtown.”

In 2013, a visiting team of downtown experts was brought to Augusta through the Main Street Maine program. It spent three days in the city’s downtown, seeing what was there and what wasn’t, and made recommendations for how to help spur economic and community development.

One of the things lacking, team members said at the end of their visit, was public art. Team member Malcolm Collins, a preservation architect and former director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, said he had a “glaring realization, for me, there really is no public art in downtown Augusta. Which for a capital city is not good.” He suggested the University of Maine at Augusta would be a good partner to help bring some art downtown.

Now, UMA students and artists, who are based in a downtown building, are heavily involved in the new mural project.

Peter Precourt, an artist and professor of art at UMA who also oversees the small art gallery Pop-up 265 at 265 Water St. in Augusta, is combining his interest in installing art where it will be easily accessible to the public with his interest in seeing downtown Augusta succeed, and showing students at UMA how to embark on public art projects where they live.

This year Precourt created a four-week intensive art class at UMA focused on teaching the many aspects of creating public art. Its students are currently working to select designs for two proposed murals in the city’s downtown, which they plan to start painting in about two weeks.

One is planned for the wall of the building at 179 Water St., overlooking the intersection of Bridge and Water streets. Part of the wall’s corrugated metal portion will be covered with a 12-by-18-foot mural to be painted by UMA students.

For that mural, they had a general design theme chosen for them by the Augusta Downtown Alliance and the building owner, Steven Goedeke: It would be similar to a nostalgic postcard welcoming people to the city, with large letters spelling out “Augusta.”

The other UMA piece is less certain. Precourt said it would cover about half the upper wall of the old Odd Fellows Hall, owned by Karen Hatch, at 333-339 Water St. He said students will come up with potential designs for that mural, with the owner, downtown alliance and others picking the design to be installed.

It is not yet clear whether that mural will be permanently or temporarily installed, possibly in wheat paste.

Downtown building owner Tobias Parkhurst, who is chairman of the Augusta Public Art Committee, said it hasn’t yet been decided whether that piece will be temporary or permanent.

He said one issue with permanently painting that wall is that it is brick and, generally, historic preservation guidelines discourage people from painting historic building walls if they weren’t painted before.

Precourt said the students in his public art class will not just learn better painting skills, but also how to work with building owners, municipal officials and others with a stake in public art projects. The students will receive college credit for their work. And the downtown will get one, and maybe two, murals installed for only the cost of the materials.

Precourt said the class and involvement in the murals mesh with his growing interest in creating art that is accessible to the public.

“I feel like public art is so important, that there is this growing disconnect where people go into a contemporary art space and they feel intimidated, or feel like they won’t get it,” Precourt said. “It’s important to me for art to be in more public spaces, where people can respond to it more like they respond to music – so you don’t have to feel like you need to have this expertise to appreciate it.”

Another mural is planned on the wall of the Riverfront Barbecue building at 300 Water St, overlooking Market Square Park.

That mural, according to Parkhurst, will be done by Will Sears of the Portland Mural Initiative, who is also art director for Maine-based Oxbow Brewing.

Parkhurst said Sears is doing that mural “at a drastically reduced rate” for which he will be paid with funds raised by the Augusta Downtown Alliance and the Public Art Committee. Parkhurst said about $10,000 has been raised, privately, and earmarked for the murals project this year.

Finally, a fourth mural is planned for the Kennebec River-facing, city-owned retaining wall in a vacant lot between Water and Front streets, roughly across Water Street from the Downtown Diner.

Members of the current class of the Kennebec Leadership Institute last weekend scraped, power-washed, primed and painted the surface of the wall, which is visible from across the river, to prepare it for a mural, according to Alyra Donisvitch, a member of the class who helped organize efforts to paint a mural there.

Augusta artist Clint Pettengil, a UMA graduate, has created a few different designs for the mural for the city and art committee to choose from.

Once a design is selected and approved, Donisvitch said, Pettengil will paint the outline of the artwork and the public will be invited to paint the rest of the design.

“It’s kind of a paint-by-numbers concept, minus the numbers,” Donisvitch said.

She said the mural will have a theme of welcoming and community and celebration.

While the painting date hasn’t yet been set, Donisvitch said they’re targeting the end of June and hope to have it done as part of the Whatever Family Festival, which runs from mid-June to July 4.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

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Twitter: kedwardskj