Jo-Jean Keller of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Androscoggin and Sagadahoc County board of directors said the Main Street office in Lisbon will get new artwork done by Lisbon High School students. Behind her is a photo of a flood wall in her hometown in Kentucky that was covered with artwork. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

LISBON — Lisbon is looking to paint the town, leveraging art to attract more visitors and businesses.

It’s not a new idea in Lisbon, where the community painted a mural replicating local artist Frank Gross’ historic painting of Main Street in the 1950s. The panels were installed on the side of one of the brick buildings on Main Street in 2010 owned by Downeast Energy at the time. It remains today.

A decade later, the town is looking to reignite the effort. A public art kickoff meeting was held Wednesday night at The University of Maine Cooperative Extension office on Main Street. The cooperative extension is working with Lisbon High School art students to cover the Union Street side of its building with art. The idea stemmed from an observation by cooperative extension board member Jo Jean Keller.

“This is the only building that I know of in downtown Lisbon that you can’t tell from the outside what goes on inside the building,” she said.

Keller said the cooperative extension houses the 4-H Community Central Program, master gardener volunteer programs and education programs ranging from business management and sustainable agriculture to nutrition and food and family development and planning.

Lisbon High School art teacher Pam Bois is working with her students to generate ideas.

“We’d like to have a series of murals that are temporary, in the sense that they come down and are replaced by another series of murals,” Keller said.

Michael Hall of the Augusta Downtown Alliance talks about how the city used public art to help rejuvenate the downtown that was hovering at just over a 50% vacancy rate in 2016. Darcie Moore /The Times Record

Public art enhances the identity and character of a community, which directly supports cultural tourism and economic development, as well as helps retain and attract residents, according to a 2018 report by the Public Art Network Advisory Council and Americans for the Arts. It can also help buildings in need of tenants or buyers to stand out.

For example, The Farm/Art DTour in Sauk County, Wisconsin, bolstered tourism in the area with an estimated 4,200 visitors — over 65% of whom traveled over 50 miles to see the installations. That helped to increase the revenue of many local businesses, some as much as 300%.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts, the arts contributed $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015 which is four times more than the agricultural sector agriculture sector and $200 billion more than the transportation or warehousing industries.

Anne Ball of the Maine Downtown Center gave some examples of public art projects around the country. She encouraged Lisbon to consider underutilized spaces, such as alleys, to activate with art or lights. Art can be permanent or temporary and that “sense of place”  drives economic development, she said.

“Why do you want to go to USA anywhere strip mall,” she said.

It helped Augusta revitalize its downtown, which was hovering just over 50% vacancy rate in 2016 when Michael Hall took the helm of the Augusta Downtown Alliance. A former mill town, it has a collection of eclectic buildings. The city began repainting buildings to get people excited and rebranded its art walk to get people into vacant spaces which sold space and got people interested in doing physical art in the downtown. They did a community-chosen sculpture project, a mural, pop-up art shows and even a temporary outdoor light design.

“The more art that we put up, the more that people got excited about being excited,” Hall said.

There was an initial fear that the artwork would draw graffiti, which has never happened.

“When people recognize that it’s coming from the community or an organization, they feel like they have a stake in it,” he said.

Lisbon Economic and Community Development Director Brett Richardson said the next step is to find opportunities for creating art in town.

“On Saturday, March 21, at 10 a.m. we’re going to convene downtown and whoever is interested, we’re going to walk neighborhoods and we’re going to identify spaces that could use public art,” he said. “We’re going to raise some money and we’re going to put some art in Lisbon.”

Lisbon hung a mural based on a painting by artist Frank Gross on a Main Street building with a scene of Main Street in the 1950s. Darcie Moore / The Times Record


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