HALLOWELL — Painting the pavement of Water Street just before it’s rebuilt may seem like a waste of time and materials to some.

But a leader in Hallowell’s cultural community — envisioning the painting as part of a party on the city’s main thoroughfare — said that and other artistic tie-ins could beat back negative feelings about a big future project on the city’s main thoroughfare. The road is also U.S. Route 201 and is heavily traveled.

“It’s going to be the act and not the result,” said Deborah Fahy, executive director of the Harlow Gallery, a downtown art nonprofit. “It’ll be kind of a block party.”

Artist Marty Pottenger, the director of Art at Work, an initiative housed at Portland City Hall that integrates art and local government, will facilitate a public meeting at Hallowell City Hall later this month on the road project, saying its aim is “to inspire creative ideas among artists and residents.”

Last year, Hallowell finalized an agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation to rebuild the downtown stretch of Water Street, which is steeply crowned and slopes toward the sidewalk on the Kennebec River side. It will happen in 2018 or beyond, costing more than $3 million in state and federal funding and taking up to six months, worrying some in Hallowell’s business community.

However, it’s a transformative opportunity for the city, which could elect to build new sidewalks, add a southern sidewalk extension to the boat landing and add streetlights. Fahy said it’s something worth celebrating, and “we want to make it something to look forward to, other than something to be afraid of.”


Pottenger’s initative is a nationwide effort well-known in Portland for working to improve relations between the city’s police force and its immigrant and refugee population after conflicts and a police shooting. In 2010, police and young people performed back-to-back skits that presented differing views of police, building on an earlier project that got police to compose poetry.

Councilor Alan Stearns, chairman of Hallowell’s road committee, said he was “guarded” about the idea to use art to mitigate the road project’s effects. But earlier this year, he saw Pottenger talk about her past work, and he was “genuinely impressed with her sophisticated blend of creativity and civic realism,” which he said could go a long way in the city, a local art and music haven.

“The city consistently rallies behind using the arts and cultural institutions as catalysts to make the community and its businesses stronger,” Stearns said.

Fahy said she expects many events to be planned near the time of construction. Also, she said an event probably will be held this fall to celebrate protests from residents who stopped the state from bulldozing many downtown buildings in 1975 to widen U.S. Route 201. It’s an apt story to be shared now, and the effort could build community in the city, she said.

“Of course, I’m biased, but I think you can use the arts to solve any kind of problem,” Fahy said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652


Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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