The lines on the sidewalks showed up last week without warning or explanation. Yellow, purple and green, with arrows in some spots.

They went up and down busy streets in the Parkside and West End neighborhoods of Portland, across corners and through parks.

Each resident in the project is represented by a different color. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Within a few days, they started attracting attention in neighborhood chat rooms and even spurred reports to the city’s SeeClickFix website, where residents can complain about potholes and other city nuisances in hopes that they will be addressed.

In the case of the recently painted sidewalk lines, though, they are not graffiti, as some have speculated, but a public art installation.

And they’re doing what public art often does, generating conversation.

“Some like it, some are upset by it,” said Anne Pringle, a former Portland mayor and president of the Western Promenade Neighborhood Association. “I think what’s great about public art is that it’s what people make of it.”

The installation was conceived by Caitlin Cameron while she was an urban designer for the city, a position she has since left. Her project was supported by the Kindling Fund, an Andy Warhol Foundation regranting program administered by Space Gallery, and was permitted through the city’s temporary art program.

The idea was to create an “on-the-ground map installation” that followed a typical day in the life of four Portland residents whose primary mode of transportation is walking, Cameron said.

Three of the paths enter Congress Square Park on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I see this as a storytelling project, for people who have a specific experience of Portland,” she said. “Painting these lines on the sidewalk was intended to catch attention, ideally in a positive way.”

Cameron said she got some feedback while she was painting the lines last week and has since seen some of the online comments as well. She also said interest in the website that explains the project in greater detail has been strong in recent days.

The website, she said, is an important part of the project, and she also soon will be publishing physical guidebooks of the routes that will be available at downtown businesses.

She said she understands people might not like the aesthetic. That’s true of most public art installations.

“But I think it’s honest,” she said. “The way it ended up appearing reflects the reality of walking on a city sidewalk. For the people who aren’t a fan or are unhappy that this has appeared on their sidewalk, temporary art has more latitude for just that reason. If it’s not successful, it’ll be gone in a matter of months.”

Each resident is represented by a different color. One path, closer to East Bayside, has not been installed.

“I met Caitlin through my job as executive director of the Friends of Congress Square Park,” said C.J. Opperthauser, whose path is yellow. “I think she sensed I might be a good candidate for this. I do this walk every day.”

C.J. Opperthauser, whose path goes down West Street, to Pine Street and then to Congress, said, “This is an example where public art comes to you.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Opperthauser lives on Valley Street near Maine Medical Center, and his path goes down West Street, to Pine Street and then to Congress. At some points along his newly marked route, there are arrows and labels, “C.J.’s Path,” and a link to the project’s website,, where people can learn more.

“At first glance, it can look like graffiti, so I get that people might be irritated,” Opperthauser said. “It’s kind of an extreme case, but this is an example where public art comes to you, literally right to your door for some people.”

The complaints to the city and on the online neighborhood forum Nextdoor have centered on the idea that the lines are graffiti and that they might encourage vandals to tag the sidewalks.

“Art absolutely has a place in a thriving vibrant city but for something to last nearly half a year long across residential streets is an overreach, in my opinion,” wrote one resident. “I will go visit and appreciate art, but I don’t appreciate it plastered on my doorstep.”

Some defended the work.

“I’m very much looking forward to exploring the daily routes of the community members who participated in this. What an excellent and exciting opportunity to learn more about fellow Portlanders!” wrote another resident.

But others asked the city to investigate.

“Apparently someone has done an art installation and has spray-painted all over the brick sidewalks and it looks horrible, they had defaced public property and made an eyesore of this beautiful neighborhood,” wrote one complainant.

Rich Bianculli, a neighborhood prosecutor with the city’s community policing program, replied to each of the complaints filed on the site, saying the lines are “a permitted art installation using marking paint that, according to specifications, will deteriorate within 60 days.”

Reached by email, Bianculli declined to comment further.

Pringle, of the West End neighborhood association, said she doesn’t mind the work. Her only concern is whether it might lead to actual graffiti. And she hopes that the paint used is indeed temporary.

“A utility company sprayed my sidewalk and I think it took 10 years for that to wear off,” she said.

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