Engineering challenges have sunk a proposal for a floating art installation on Back Cove in Portland – at least for this year.

But organizers say they aren’t flushing the project – they’re only delaying it until the summer 2019.

Anne Marie Purkey Levine, a board member of TEMPOart Portland, a privately funded group, said Wednesday that the group plans to move forward with the Shifting Tides installation but they don’t have enough time to have it ready this summer after questions were raised about the stability of the structure.

“TEMPOart remains deeply committed to the project,” Levine said in an email.

The group commissioned Shifting Tides from Matthew Mazzotta, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, artist who visited Portland to get ideas for his project.

Mazzotta proposed building a 30-foot-by-30-foot floating dock with at least one dining table and connected to an 80-foot gangway extending from the shore of Back Cove near a popular recreational trail. At high tide, the dock would be surrounded by four platforms extending outward on the surface of the cove. As the tide falls, those platforms would slowly rise, enclosing the dock within four 30-foot walls at low tide, according to the plan.


The dock would have been accessible to the public for up to five months beginning this summer, providing an informal event space. The kinetic, interactive sculpture would have been installed from June through October.

The goal was to bring together strangers in a space completely free of “social stigmas,” according to the application that TEMPOart Portland filed with the city.

The group said it planned to partner with the Augusta-based World to Table, which seeks to better integrate immigrants into their new communities through food. They planned to host a series of community meals on the floating sculpture, pairing community cooks with restaurant chefs to create coastal cuisines from different cultures and ethnicities.

While the proposal raised some eyebrows regarding its feasibility, Mazzotta has pulled off similar projects in the past.

In 2013, he transformed a blighted property in York, Alabama, converting an abandoned home on the lot into a 100-seat open air theater with fold-down walls that was free and open to the public.

And in 2016, he converted an abandoned storefront in Lyons, Nebraska. Using two hydraulic cylinders, an awning and false storefront would fold down over the sidewalk to provide seating for 100 people for movies, concerts and video game nights.


This concept sketch of Shifting Tides shows how it would rest on the mud flats when the tide is low and begin to float as the tide rises. A mechanism activated by the rising tide would lower all four walls to make it a floating platform.

It’s not yet clear how the Back Cove platform would be engineered. The group has only submitted a generic image depicting the concept for the Shifting Tides installation in Portland. The final designs were going to be drafted after the project was permitted, Levine said.

Engineering hasn’t been the only concern raised in the community. At least two residents sent letters to the editor published in the Portland Press Herald and imploring the city to scuttle the project because of visual impacts to Back Cove.

“Please don’t mar its beauty and tranquility with this dock and platform,” Bruce Gobi wrote in a letter published April 2. “Art can do much to bring people together, and there are some nice ideas in this plan, but please don’t build this dock and platform on the cove.”

Despite the letters and the engineering challenges, Levine said, the project was making “good headway” through the state and local permitting process involving the city’s Temporary Art Committee, as well as the Harbor Commission and Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Harbor Master Kevin Battle said during a workshop discussion the Harbor Commission had lingering questions about the stability of the structure, especially during storms.

Levine said that it would take an additional four to five months to complete the additional level of engineering and undergo a review process.


“Given this, we have no choice but to delay the water site for Shifting Tides to the summer of 2019,” Levine said. “No one has attempted a project like this in Maine before, so we are inventing the wheel, so to speak.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: randybillings

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