Richard Robichaud, an Orono Public Works Employee, paints a crosswalk in the colors of the Pride Progress flag on Aug. 6. Credit: Nina Mahaleris / The Penobscot Times

ORONO, Maine — A group of tireless local activists who designed art sculptures to inspire the community during the coronavirus pandemic has made a new project come to life on Main Street in Orono — a crosswalk painted in the colors of the Pride Progress flag.

The group has gained local attention in recent months for raising money for MaineTransnet and bringing new events to town to celebrate Pride month, like a drag story hour at the public library to teach kids about acceptance and diversity.

As with these projects, the group — made up of friends and LGBTQ allies in Orono — wanted to make this year’s Pride activities extra special amid the pandemic.

For months, they’ve rallied the town to paint a Pride-inspired crosswalk but faced challenges in getting approval from the Maine Department of Transportation — which mistakenly said that painted crosswalks weren’t allowed based on an outdated rule, Town Manager Sophie Wilson said.

But after resolving the brief miscommunication, the DOT approved the project.

So in the early morning hours of Aug. 6, the town’s public works crew toted their paint cans and brushes to the crosswalk at the corner of Main and Pine streets and got to work.

A worker looks at the newly-painted Pride crosswalk from afar on Thursday morning. Credit: Nina Mahaleris / The Penobscot Times

They reconfigured traffic so cars would not drive over wet paint as the crew worked, carefully decorating each alternating space a different color from the Pride Progress flag.

“It truly is a community effort,” said Wilson as she surveyed their progress Thursday morning.

The crosswalk will be a destination for those taking part in a virtual Pride Passport event put on by Pride Across Maine for the month of August.

Ash Carduns, an Orono local who is helping coordinate events for Pride Across Maine, said that the “Pride Zoo” — the wooden animal sculptures painted in Pride colors — will also be included as destinations for the passport activity.

Wilson said the crosswalk will last about five to six weeks, as the paint begins to wear down — but the town is hoping to redo it with more durable paint so it will last a few years.

The Pride crosswalk has been a long time coming. “Early on we realized that there were many residents wanting to create a Pride that was amazing — and they did,” said town councilor and local business owner Terry Grenier, who helped get the project approved.

“I grew up in a time where you had to hide that you were gay. I see the crosswalk as a sign of inclusion and acceptance. I look at the colors as a symbol of all people of all backgrounds,” Grenier said.

“This is only possible when our LGBTQ allies step to the front and become the leaders in making this happen. I am truly fortunate to be part of this community — proud to call Orono my home.”

Town of Orono art. Credit: Nina Mahaleris / The Penobscot Times

Along with the crosswalk, the group has continued with the sculpture project — moving the giant wooden collection made up of colorful flowers, people and animals — around various spots downtown.

Orono resident Katie Quirk — whose family first started making the sculptures at the beginning of the pandemic — said the newest art sculptures have toured the town the last few months and each time they’ve moved to a new spot, at least one family in the neighborhood has added another sculpture to the collection.

Quirk said the sculptures will be set up in Webster Park next month.

“It’s been super fun to see the community embrace this project. Each time we move, we have a parade of cars with lots of volunteers and music and kids on bikes,” she said.