Downtown Augusta is a more vibrant and interesting place this week.

It is also likely the only community in the country whose streets are lined with fiberglass statues of sturgeon.

The sturgeon, decorated by local artists and organizations as part of a public arts initiative, already have accomplished the worthwhile aims of public art: to bring life to an area, to connect us through our common spaces, and to reflect something special about a place.

Public art is often criticized as frivolous, and always subject to the whims of personal taste.

But the sturgeon statues, based on the ancient species that visits the Kennebec River every year, show how valuable public art can be – how it can draw people in, give them a smile, and make them think.

How it can show off an area’s artists, and demonstrate how the community values art.


Dustin Tribou draws a panther on a fiberglass sturgeon June 28 at his business, Saylorink Tattoo in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

How it can show that residents care enough about a place to give it a splash of color and creativity, and make it safer and healthier for everyone.

Whatever hesitation people have around public art, the sturgeon statues now found along Water Street are a wonderful argument in its favor, as are the other projects now enriching the world around them in communities all over the state.

Take the new piece in Portland: three pink sculptures 12 to 17 feet tall that have been drawing looks – as well as hugs from children – this summer in Payson Park.

Made out of 10 tons of discarded fishing gear, the sculptures are not only whimsical and striking to the eye, but they also reference one of Maine’s traditional industries, and comment on the deteriorating state of the natural world.

Another example is the mural on the Gem Theater in Bethel, one of the largest public art pieces in the state.

Designed by a Maine artist based on a theme developed by local students, and painted with the help of volunteers, the mural brought together the community just through its creation. Now it gives a message of hope, joy and community to everyone who passes by.


Public art can make something out of the most utilitarian of spaces. A Portland bus stop designed by a local artist won an award this year for its creativity. Not only does it celebrate Portland’s growing diversity, but it also promises a commitment to public transportation.

A sculpture at the center of the city’s first roundabout, too, brings art out into the streets, transforming what could have been a barren area of concrete and pavement.

Whether in rural Maine or its biggest city, investment in public art pays off.

Public art adds beauty to an empty park or bare wall. It provides an outlet for our talented artists, and supports them in their other work. It connects residents, giving them something to wonder at and talk about.

It shows that we value our public spaces, and that we want people to come out and enjoy them – together, as a community.

That’s no small thing.

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