Artist David Wilson and his “seaweed shelter” at the Portland Transportation Center. Photo by Dave Wade, courtesy of Creative Portland

Draped with a piece of dried rockweed around his upper torso, the artist David Wilson stepped onto the newly landscaped bus shelter at the Portland Transportation Center and tossed the weed to the ground.

“Not only is it beautiful to look at,” he said of the discarded marine algae, “but it’s also mulch.”

Wilson, born in Scotland and living in Maine, designed the new bus shelter with a display of giant rockweed hand-painted and printed on its panels as part of Creative Portland’s ongoing Creative Bus Shelter Initiative, a partnership with Greater Portland METRO and the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

It is the fourth art-covered bus shelter paid for by a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and Creative Portland this spring received a second $25,000 NEA grant to extend to the program to three or four more shelters.

Wilson said he was inspired by the Maine coast and the wrought-iron gates and railings in Portland’s West End. His design includes a stylized map charting the court of the bus, and Wilson said it pleased him to elevate something as utilitarian as a bus shelter into a platform for art. He said he was grateful to the bus drivers and riders he met while working on the project.

The seaweed shelter was unveiled during a ceremony Tuesday attended by Wilson, Mayor Kate Snyder, City Councilor Tae Chong, METRO executive director Greg Jordan, Maine Arts Commission executive director David Greenham and Dinah Minot, executive director of Creative Portland.

In brief remarks, Greenham made a plea for more public art – and anticipated criticism of the bus shelter.

“Of course, we all know that public art is almost always controversial,” he said. “To me, it’s proof that public art is important. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t still provoke such debate.”


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