June 19, 2018
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New website guides Portland through public artworks

By Kathleen Pierce, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — She anchors Monument Square, a bronze, stoic beauty.

But few who pass by Our Lady of Victories know much about the goddess of wisdom and war, and how she got here.

Now with the tap of a smartphone, the story behind Portland’s growing public art collection is coming to life.

A recently launched website, PublicArtPortland.org, aims to connect tourists, residents and passersby with these works.

“The idea was that people could know more simply by going on the website. I am excited about the collection being more public and informing people,” said Lin Lisberger, chairwoman of the Portland Public Art Committee, the volunteer group that led the charge.

Twenty-eight city monuments, from the Eastern Promenade to Portland International Jetport to Monument Square, are no longer a mystery. Details on their origin, medium and links to articles about them are a click away.

The Little Water Girl, for example, is a graceful fountain that greets visitors to Portland Public Library that didn’t always live here. She previously was in Deering Oaks Park and before that Congress Square. Donated to the city by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in the early 1900s, the statue was designed to promote pure drinking water over alcohol.

“We have the entire range of history,” said Lisberger. “It’s quite exciting to have that kind of a public art collection [at your fingertips],” Lisberger said.

Stacy Kim of design studio PERCH in Portland created the image-centric site filled with panoramic views of sculptures, fountains, murals and a modern bus stop that transports you to the street.

With quick-response codes, getting the information is even easier. By waving your smartphone on the stickers affixed to plaques, “your mobile device becomes your online guide,” said Kim.

It takes you directly to the webpage for that piece of art. Each page includes a locator map and suggestions to other nearby works of art. All can be shared on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.

“We have no idea what the interaction will look like,” said Kim. “It’s more tools for the Public Art Committee to play around with. It’s flexible so they can continue to grow and add new things.”

The project’s next step might include video.

Though the concept of an animated art tour is not new, Kim says the aggregation of information — the imagery and the back story — will be a real benefit to history and art aficionados.

And it could be a boon for the local economy.

When a city has a robust public art collection, it helps the creative economy and is a magnet for art and culture tourists, said Portland City Councilor David Marshall.

As a member of the Public Art Committee, Marshall, who is a painter and gallery director, said the project complements the local museums and furthers Portland’s status as an arts destination.

“A lot of art is in institutions behind closed doors. This gives people a way to interact with the city and its history,” Marshall said.

Snapping a photo of a friend in front of Our Lady of Victories this week, Steve Sallies of Florida was pleased to know there was more beyond the plaque.

“We like exploring and happening upon things and like to make sure we don’t miss anything,” he said. “It’s a good avenue for that.”

Kathleen Pierce can be reached at kpierce@bangordailynews.com or on Twitter at @piercenews.

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