Artist Chris Miller paints a wooden bench he sculpted in his South Portland studio. The bench, made to resemble a whale based on a drawing from the 1600s, will be installed on the Western Promenade in Portland. TEMPOart funds public art that stays up in the city for one or two years. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A polar bear. A saber toothed cat. A dinosaur. A dragon.

South Portland artist Chris Miller can picture these creatures on Portland’s Western Promenade, whether during the last ice age or in constellations in the night sky. He plans to bring them to the park this spring in the form of seven carved wooden benches as part of the next installation by nonprofit TempoArt. Called “Carousel Cosmos,” the piece is inspired by both bedtime stories and astrophysics, something to be enjoyed by visitors of all ages.

“My artistic practice has a lot to do with my reading habits, which for a while were children’s books because I have two kids,” said Miller. “A lot of it comes from learning with them, having curious learning eyes to look through.”

TempoArt formed in 2015 and funds art installations in public spaces around Portland. The pieces remain in place for one or two years, and then are returned to the artists who can move them to a new home. Founder Alice Spencer served on the Portland Public Art Committee for years and helped develop the city’s regulations for temporary public art. She started the nonprofit in part because she found the city did not always have the resources for outreach and programming around the artwork.

Key to each project commissioned by TempoArt is the opportunity for public engagement, and the sculptures have been a focal point for gatherings both planned and unplanned: poetry readings, community meals, yoga classes, dance performances, birthday parties, art talks, summer camps.

“One of the overarching ideas is that art in museums is wonderful, but there are any number of people that aren’t going to find themselves in a museum for any number of reasons,” said Spencer. “It’s far away from where they live, it’s intimidating. Even though museums are making a huge effort to get people there, there are still a lot of people that get left behind.”


“Part of our mission is to put art where people in neighborhoods can feel it, and it’s accessible to them,” she added. “It’s not hidden away in a building with a door and an admission fee. It’s there in their backyard, and they can make friends with it.”


TempoArt puts out a request for proposals and then pays the selected artist $25,000 to complete the work. (This year, the organization increased the grant to $35,000 to expand the original proposal from five benches to seven.) When the city permit expires, the artist owns the work and can determine its next home.

Nancy Lawrence of Portland walks among the sculptures “Beneath the Forest, Beneath the Sea” by Pamela Moulton at Payson Park in November. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Last year, the organization commissioned Pamela Moulton’s “Beneath the Forest, Beneath the Sea,” which has been extended until 2024 in Payson Park. The three towering sculptures are made out of abandoned fishing gear and stand out in shades of bright pink. Moulton, who lives in North Bridgton, worked with more than 5,600 students and collaborators to detangle, weave, paint and assemble the figures. On a recent visit to Ocean Avenue Elementary School, a group of young students recognized her and remembered their part in the sculptures.

“They just have so much to say about them,” said Moulton. “It means so much to me that these children are so attached and feel so much ownership of the sculptures.”

Moulton said that installation opened the door for other professional opportunities and commissions. She isn’t sure what will happen to the sculptures when the permit expires next year, although she is hopeful they will remain in their home community of Portland somehow.


“When it’s just a temporary exhibition, it allows Tempo to take a chance on someone,” she said. “I had never done an outdoor large scale sculpture out of those materials. I wanted to prove myself. Who is going to trust you and who is going to give you that chance if it’s not an organization like Tempo? They trusted me, and I said I’m not going to let you down, and now it’s helped me so much professionally.”

People gather for the closing reception of “Gathering Stones,” by the artist Jesse Salisbury at Fish Point on the Eastern Promenade in Portland in 2021. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

In 2020, Tempo funded the installation of “Gathering Stones” by Jesse Salisbury. The series of basalt and granite stones created a natural gathering place along the Eastern Promenade near Fish Point. Last year, the city purchased the work for $60,000 for its permanent collection, so it remains next to the trail.

Portland artist Daniel Minter assists David Gomes, 8, with applying paint to a sponge cutout for his “Mother’s Garden” installation in 2019. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In 2019, Daniel Minter installed “Mother’s Garden” at Fox Field in East Bayside. The five wooden figures – painted in red, blue, green and yellow – addressed the cultural traditions and were symbolic of the food of the African diaspora and recent immigrants to Portland. That summer, TempoArt also hosted three community dinners in the park that were collaborations by local chefs.

“It was a really good opportunity to place a piece of work in a public space that would not necessarily have had artistic representation,” he said.

Minter said the work wasn’t built to last and came down after two years. He hopes future projects allow for more permanent installations or cover the costs of materials that will last longer.

“It’s a difficult thing to remove a piece of artwork from a public space that a community has grown attached to or has attached meaning to,” he said.



This year, TempoArt selected “Carousel Cosmos” for the city’s Western Promenade. Miller, who lives in South Portland, studied sculpture during his undergraduate years and architecture in graduate school. One of his ongoing projects is a redesign of Bramhall Square, not far from the Western Promenade, where he will eventually create a stone sculpture of a bear. (He also made “The Gilded Age and the Ice Age on Bramhall’s Hill,” the mural on the electrical box in that square.)

Miller paints a wooden bench he sculpted in his South Portland studio. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“Almost all the pieces I’m working on right now are friendly monsters,” he said. “Like Maurice Sendak’s monsters, monsters that help you figure out complicated things.”

“Carousel Cosmos” comprises seven wooden benches arranged in a circle around a garden bed near the end of West Street. Miller was working on his proposal when he saw a photograph of stars taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, and he dove into the world of astrophysics and cosmology. He started thinking about what it means to be a living being in the universe and on this planet. The end result is a design that is both playful and philosophical.

“This carousel is inspired by kindness, adventure, outer space, bedtime stories, dinosaurs and ice cream,” Miller wrote in his proposal. “It’s inspired by the Western Promenade’s endless views, spectacular sunsets and contemplative atmosphere. It spins the way that the earth spins when the sun sets, in a small picturesque city with a school community that speaks more than sixty different languages. This carousel runs on energy from the big bang, released billions of years ago, that also makes the sun rise, the rain fall and the flowers grow. It runs on imagination too. You can steer towards adventure in those distant mountains or the far side of the Andromeda Galaxy. You can sit back and ride to the future, toward the edge of our expanding universe.”

The seven benches will be a humpback whale, a prehistoric walrus, a polar bear, a saber-toothed cat, a Rhynchosaur (an early dinosaur whose fossils have been found in nearby Nova Scotia), a dragon and a Crenatocetus (the ancestors of whales). For some, their appearances were inspired by myths about sea creatures and historic sketches. The benches will include QR codes that will lead visitors to a website with more details about each animal, as well as narratives about geology and constellations.

The organization is working with various community partners – Oak Street Arts, The Telling Room, Chickadeeds and others – to plan programs around the benches in the coming year. Meredith Healy, manager at TempoArt, said the piece will appeal to different people for different reasons.

“Your interaction with the piece, you could go to the Western Prom and you sit on top of a polar bear and you watch a beautiful sunset,” said Healy. “Or your interaction could be going to Chris’ website and learning about the rotation of the Earth and the humpback whale that used to live in Portland and the mythology of dragons in different cultures.”

“Carousel Cosmos” was approved by a city review panel on Friday and is expected to be installed in June.

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