In 1868, five years after “Lewistown” became the official city of Lewiston, residents dedicated a bronze statue of a Union soldier to commemorate the lives lost during the Civil War. The statue was created by the prolific and famous sculptor Franklin Simmons, a Sabbatus native and a Bates College alumnus.
It is one of the earliest surviving works of public art in the Lewiston-Auburn area. Since then, and especially over the past decade, the Twin Cities have collectively pushed to bring more art to city streets, helping to create dozens of works of public art.
Among them, a retro aluminum sign with bright neon lights challenges street passers-by to be “hopeful”. Thomas Berger’s ‘The Fish’ swims in Auben Anniversary Park. In Auburn’s Festival Plaza, shoes crept down granite steps as water spewed from the soles.
“Art is empowering in so many ways,” said Jim Parakilas, a retired Bates professor and president of the Los Angeles Institute of the Arts.
LA Arts was founded in 1973 by the trustees of the Lewiston and Auburn Public Libraries and has served as a local arts institution since then. In addition to promoting arts and culture through events like the LA Summer Art Walk, the organization has been working to make art accessible to all.
“Public art is one of the best ways to do this because it’s public art so everyone can see it. It’s shared because we can all see it,” Parakilas said.
Public art defines any art – such as sculptures, murals and other installations – in a public place such as a park.
“It doesn’t have to be ‘simple’ art. It can be challenging, it can be in your face, it’s going to generate discussion, and that’s part of its benefits,” he said.
In other words, the utility of public art to the community is multifaceted. It can be monumental, like the union statue in front of the Androskogin County building on Court Street in Auburn, commissioned to honor those who fought to “maintain unions.” It can beautify the cityscape, like the giant bluebird painted by Portland artist Jared Goulette on the wall of the parking lot near Lewiston Avenue. It can be inspirational and ’empowering’, in Parakilas’s words, such as a larger-than-life zebra jumping on the side of Lewiston’s Centreville parking lot, which comes in multiple colours to represent Lewis Dayton’s growing immigrant community.
“One of the nice things about having art out in the open is that you can see it being made. You can see, if a building has a mural on the wall, you can see the art is there, you know, the scaffolding and the walls What looked blank, (that) became something colorful and beautiful,” he said.
“Then you start thinking, ‘Well, I can do something like that.'”
There is more public art on the streets of Los Angeles than ever before, thanks to a number of initiatives by organizations such as LA Arts in partnership with the city government.
To facilitate finding public art in the Twin Cities, LA Arts has created maps and self-guided tours. The map shows the location of the artwork and provides a description of each piece. Many works are in and around the city center. However, some are further from the city center, such as Aaron Stephen’s Situate Sculpture, which recreates classroom scenes at 84 Farwell St., Lewiston, and Kate Cargile’s Red Fox mural at 741 Main St., Lewiston.
Lewiston and Auburn’s artwork includes murals, sculptures, graffiti and what the website says is “out of the ordinary,” including art on crosswalks, rocks and fire hydrants.
Next month, the Twin Cities will dedicate three more artworks more than 150 years since Lewiston installed Simmons’ Union Soldier statue in Kennedy Park.
Dedication Ceremony of the Three – Susan Huggins’ “Persistence and Progress,” a mural commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, at Dufresne Square in downtown Lisbon Street, Lewiston; artist Andy Rowe Andy Rosen’s installation “Ledger” on the canal next to the Baxter Brewing Co. in Lewiston; sculptor Hugh Lassen’s “Bud” at the entrance to the Longley Memorial Bridge in Auburn Form” will be held during next month’s Art Walk on June 24th.
As for the future, cities and various organizations are developing or already developing public art plans. They include:
- The Mural Committee of the Lewiston Downtown Association;
- The Public Theatre in Lewiston, which is preparing to have a mural on its building;
- Healthy Communities’ Plant Our Streets program, which includes a public art fund;
- Portland artist Ryan Adams, commissioned by L/A Arts, will soon celebrate the city’s African immigrant population on the streets of downtown Lisbon.
Palakilas mentioned that Lewiston and Auburn are also working to establish a standing committee on public art to encourage, monitor and sustain public art.
To learn more about Art Walk LA, and to find maps and self-guided tours of public art, visit laarts.org or visit laarts.org/la-map-of-public-art
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