Redesign Project Selected for NEA Our Town Grant!

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 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.

Design Finalists Announced!

We are pleased to announce that four design teams have been selected as finalists for the Congress Square Redesign project.  Twelve submissions were received for the design contract, four will proceed to round 2 of the selection process which will include interviews with the selection committee, a site visit, and a public presentation.

The four finalist design teams are (in alphabetical order; click on the name to view the finalist applications):  CRJA – IBI, Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture, Terry DeWan & Associates with Olin Studio, WRT.

The scope of work will include developing a schematic design for the entire Congress Square in coordination with an artist who will create a concept for public art.  The artist selection for the public art commission is still under review and will be announced in the Spring.

The finalists will speak at a public forum on Wednesday, May 4th from 5:30-7:30pm at the Portland Museum of Art auditorium.  Each finalist will present about their past relevant experience and thoughts on the opportunities for Congress Square, followed by a question and answer session. The public forum will create an opportunity for the community to learn about the prospective consultants, and provide input on the finalists by completing a public survey ranking the finalists following the presentation. The City wants to hire design professionals that the community will be excited about and who will be good partners with the City,  selected artist, and community.

The event is free and open to the public, but RSVP will be required for capacity reasons.  Click here to RSVP today!

The project partners -the Planning & Urban Development Department, the Portland Public Art Committee and the Friends of Congress Square Park – are excited about the unique opportunity to combine urban design and public art to transform Congress Square into a welcoming, accessible public open space in the heart of the city with a focus on arts and performance.

We hope you join us on Wednesday, May 4th at the PMA!

Note: The City currently has funds to develop schematic level concepts for the Congress Square intersection and public artwork.  The concepts developed by the winning design team and artist will be used to help raise money to implement the project.  You can visit the project webpage to find a full history of the redesign project:

Call for Submissions for Congress Square Redesign and Public Art Commission!

We are thrilled to announce that the City of Portland’s Planning & Urban Development Department, in partnership with the Portland Public Art Committee and the Friends of Congress Square Park, has issued an open call for landscape designers and visual artists for the Congress Square Redesign project. The City has released two Requests for Qualifications (RFQ) to hire a design team and an artist to concurrently develop schematic designs for the Square (Park and the intersection) and an integrated public art commission. This project presents a unique opportunity for collaborative urban design and public art, with the design team and artist to be chosen simultaneously.

We are excited to take this next step towards a high quality re-design that creates a more accessible public space with community use and public art at its core and that prioritizes the pedestrian experience.

Responses to the open call will be collected until 3pm on January 28, 2016. Applicants will be reviewed by the selection committee and finalists will be invited to a site visit, interview, and public forum to present their work. The public forum, to be held in March, 2016, creates an opportunity for the community to learn about the prospective designers and artists and to provide input about the finalists.

The City currently has funds allocated to develop schematic level concepts for the Congress Square and to cover for the artist fee. The design concepts will be used to help raise money to implement the project.

Information about both RFQs (Congress Square Public Art Commission RFQ–Bid #4016 and Congress Square Redesign—Bid #3916) are posted on the City of Portland website ( To obtain a copy of the RFQ you must contact the City Purchasing Office at 207-874-8654 or

Open Call for 2016 Arts Programming Submissions

Calling All Artists / Musicians / Filmmakers / Poets / Dancers/ Performers

Do you have an idea for a public event or art interaction in Congress Square Park for the 2016 Season? We want to hear your ideas!  

This is an incredible and unique opportunity to bring your artistic vision and talents into the public realm. Contribute to the activation of Congress Square Park and the vitality of Portland’s temporary public art scene.

Music in the Square, Art in the Square, Films in the Square, Play in the Square, Dance in the Square…MEET in the Square!

2016 In the Square events will run from May through the end of October.

To submit an idea for an event or art interaction, please complete the form below to provide general information about your programming idea.

Submissions are due by Sunday, January 31st at midnight.

A committee will review the submissions and select the programming line-up for the 2016 season.  The FoCSP Programming Committee will work with the artist or contact person to finalize an event date. Content must be suitable for public viewing to be considered.  Artist stipends will be provided by The Friends of Congress Square Park.

FoCSP publishes Park Use Evaluation Report

Through the generous support of Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community grant and in partnership with Project for Public Spaces, FoCSP hired Dextrous Creative to conduct an evaluation of park use during the summer of 2015.  The project sought to assess the impact of placemaking interventions (new amenities and arts programming) largely installed in late June with the launch of the Heart of the Community Grant.

Objectives of the project included gaining a better understanding of the following:

  • Who uses Congress Square Park
  • When do visitors use the park
  • Which interventions were most successful
  • How do visitors use the park
  • What activities or features are most popular

As stated in our evaluation report, “The diversity of Congress Square Park’s visitors and events are key to its vibrancy and success.  Low-cost interventions and amenities installed over the past two summers in the park have turned a forgotten corner within Portland’s Arts District into a thriving and busy gathering and event location.  The park’s renewed vitality has fostered new friendships across generations, cultures and sparked dialogue about the nature and importance of public space in the heart of downtown Portland.  Further improvements to address deferred maintenance will only enhance user experience in the park and accessibility for individuals with mobility impairments as word spreads of the park’s rebirth.”

Check out the full report here.


Light Installation by artist Pandora LaCasse

Stop by the park this winter to enjoy the beautiful light installation by local artist Pandora LaCasse. Congress Square Park’s trees are aglow with 26,000 caribbean blue, cool white and purple LED lights. The sculptural light installation will be on display through February 2016.

Congress Square Park is just one of the many public spaces and buildings decorated by Pandora LaCasse. Stroll through the city and check out the other sculptural light installations in Longfellow Square, Tommy’s Park, Boothby Square, Deering Oaks, along Commercial and Congress Streets, and on the Press Hotel, the Portland Museum of Art, Time and Temp Building, and Maine College of Art.

FoCSP receives $100,000 Heart of the Community Grant

Congress Square Park will receive expanded amenities and programming in 2015 as part of Southwest Airlines’ Heart of the Community program in partnership with Project for Public Spaces.  Friends of Congress Square Park will lead the initiative to further revitalize the space through a combination of programming support and activations to encourage an area that attracts resident and supports local business and cultural institutions.

“Cities are more than destinations—they are places of human connections and livelihood,” said Gary Kelly, Chairman, President, and CEO of Southwest Airlines.  “Our Purpose at Southwest is to connect People to what’s important in their lives.  What better way to do that than by helping to create more access to our public spaces where communities can come together?”

Congress Square Park is one of six public spaces across the country selected through a competitive application process. Proposed projects are evaluated in terms of preliminary work and preparedness, capacity for local impact, potential for large-scale public-private partnerships, and strength of the commitment demonstrated by local partners.

The Friends of Congress Square Park are thrilled to be be part of the Heart of the Community program!


Park with possibilities

Reimagining Congress Square is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a beautiful, flexible and timeless park and square. The design possibilities are endless. We must strive for excellence.

Several designers from around the globe have given thought to the possibilities. Below is a sampling of some of their ideas sent in through an open call from the Friends of Congress Square Park in the fall of 2013.

We look forward to a future redesign that allows this important square and park to realize its full potential as a world-class public space – a central attraction at the heart of Portland’s Arts District and an anchor for community and economic development for generations to come.

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