National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced 64 awards totaling $4.3 million supporting projects across the nation through the NEA’s Our Town program. The City of Portland, partnering with the Portland Public Art Committee and the Friends of Congress Square Park, is one of the recommended organizations for an award of $25,000 to the Congress Square Redesign project. The Our Town grant program supports creative placemaking projects that help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core. The NEA received 240 applications for Our Town this year and will make awards ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.
“For six years, Our Town has made a difference for people and the places where they live, work, and play,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Projects such as the one led by the City of Portland help residents engage the arts to spark vitality in their communities.”
“Receiving an Our Town grant would not have happened without our strong community partnerships. Recognition from the NEA is truly encouraging and shows us that we are on the right track with this project,” said City Councilor Jill Duson, who serves on the Public Art Committee.
Congress Square is the heart of the Arts District and a center of activity for neighborhood residents and the arts community attending the First Friday Art Walk and events coordinated by the Friends of Congress Square Park. The Square also provides an important first impression for visitors to the Portland Museum of Art and the Westin Hotel and serves as a neighborhood open space for surrounding residents.
The City currently has funds to develop schematic level concepts for the Congress Square intersection and public artwork. The concepts will be used to help raise money to implement the project. The project team anticipates the project, if approved for implementation, will require significant fundraising efforts. The City has pursued several grant opportunities to fund the endeavor; the project also recently received a grant from the Quimby Family Foundation thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Congress Square Park.
The City of Portland is in the process of selecting design and art consultants to develop design concepts for the Square. Last week, four design team finalists spoke to a full room at a public forum at the Portland Museum of Art auditorium. The selection committee will choose a winning team this month. The artist selection committee plans to announce the public art finalists early this summer. All design work will begin in August of this year. Public forum presentations are available to view on the project webpage.
For many years, the City and Portland residents have debated how best to revitalize Congress Square. The Congress Square redesign has become a public-private partnership that includes efforts by City planners, working with the Friends of Congress Square Park and the Portland Public Art Committee, to advance redesign of this important part of Portland. In 2012, the Public Art Committee selected the Square as the next site for a major public art acquisition and has saved funds since that time for this project. The Committee receives 0.5% of the City’s Capital Improvement Project budget each year for conservation of existing artwork and acquisition of new art. In 2014, an art selection panel was created to focus on the Congress Square public art process and is comprised of stakeholders from the Portland Museum of Art, Maine College of Art, the Westin, Friends of Congress Square Park, SPACE Gallery, Portland Society for Architecture, and the Public Art Committee. The Public Art Committee is excited for this unique opportunity to commission original artwork in collaboration with the landscape design. Since 2013, the Friends of Congress Square Park has made dramatic improvements to the public open space by deploying movable furniture and art installations, events programming, and taking on the responsibility of park maintenance and stewardship. In 2014, the Friends of Congress Square Park, working with Project for Public Spaces, was awarded the Southwest Heart of the Community grant to fund its activities and collect data on the use of the park. The group now has a three-year Memorandum of Understanding with the City to act as placemaking managers providing amenities and events.
For a complete list of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, please visit the NEA web site at www.arts.gov. The NEA’s online resource, Exploring Our Town, features case studies of more than 70 Our Town projects along with lessons learned and other resources.