Art gets people talking. As Bangor residents have discovered this month, even an artist’s rendering of art she intends to create in the coming months — which could result in a final product that barely resembles the rendering — sparks an exchange and enlivens the public imagination.
Given the reaction so far to the Queen City’s plans to float a fiberglass, buoy-like sculpture in the Kenduskeag Stream in downtown Bangor this summer, the public art installation — and the city grant that’s funding part of its creation — is already doing its job.
Bangor City Council gave the final sign-off Monday night on a $1,000 grant award for artist Anna Hepler, who plans to create the installation in time to display it in downtown Bangor from June through September. It would coincide with an exhibition of more of Hepler’s work at the University of Maine Museum of Art, which is located on the Kenduskeag Stream. The installation would be based near a footbridge that leads to the museum.
By the time City Council weighed in, the public already had, with many talking about the planned installation on social media and in the BDN’s online comments section. Of course, the image brought female genitalia to mind for many. There also was debate about the value of the city’s $1,000 investment in the art. Hepler intends to match the city’s investment with $5,000 to $6,000 more, which she plans to raise from other sources.
The installation of Hepler’s sculpture in downtown Bangor will bring a surprising, eye-catching image to the many people who pass by it on a daily basis and don’t expect it. During a December meeting with the Bangor Commission on Cultural Development, Hepler said her intention was for passers-by to be curious about and mystified by the sculpture.
While more of the Eastport-based artist’s work will appear within the walls of the University of Maine Museum of Art, her public art display will be available to everyone. It will offer all who pass it by a brief museum-worthy experience that can get them thinking and their imaginations working. Some will be inspired to visit Hepler’s exhibition in the museum. Others won’t, but they will be moved to think about the art installation, if only for a second. They might love it or hate it. It might stretch their definition of art. Maybe they’ll be moved to talk about it with friends and family and point it out downtown.
The $1,000 grant Hepler will receive is the first the city has awarded through its Individual Artists Grants program. It comes from the Commission on Cultural Development’s $10,000 slice of a city budget of more than $90 million. Much of the commission’s five-year plan is devoted to the pursuit of funding from non-city sources.
It’s difficult to quantify the value of public art to a community, but imagine Bangor without some of the public art pieces or appealing public spaces that set it apart. (Does Paul Bunyan come to mind? What about the 40-foot-wide mural that welcomes people downtown? Or the remade West Market Square?)
Now, imagine if Bangor stopped investing in some of what could help set it apart in the future. Public art — along with strong public schools, safe and pleasant neighborhoods, a vibrant downtown, a popular concert series and more — is a part of the equation for creating a city where people want to live and do business.