A rendering of artist Matthew Mazzotta’s vision for Shifting Tides shows how the public art piece and two of its four rising and descending walls might look at mid-tide in Back Cove. Rendering courtesy of TempArt

A group behind a series of temporary art installations in Portland is floating a proposal that could provide a new perspective on the city.

Called Shifting Tides, the installation would include a publicly accessible dock in Back Cove, with walls that rise and fall with the changing tides.

The proposal, which is being reviewed by three government agencies, includes an 80-foot-long gangway that would allow visitors to walk out over Back Cove, an undeveloped tidal water body that is surrounded by a popular walking trail. The gangway would lead to a 30- by 30-foot floating dock that would rise and fall with the tides.

At high tide, the dock would be surrounded by four platforms extending outward on the surface of the cove. As the tide drains out to sea, those platforms would slowly rise up so that the dock would become enclosed with four 30-foot walls at low tide.

The dock, which would include at least one table, would be accessible to the public for up to five months beginning this summer, providing an informal event space.

The purpose is to bring together strangers in a space completely free of “social stigmas,” according to the application that TEMPOart Portland filed with the city.

The group says it plans to partner with the Augusta-based World to Table, which seeks to better integrate immigrants into their new communities through food. They plan to host a series of community meals on the floating sculpture, pairing community cooks with restaurant chefs to create coastal cuisines from different cultures and ethnicities.


“With the walls down, all can clearly see activity on the platform, and the more curious may wander their way down the long skinny dock where they would be invited to join the meal and conversation,” the group’s application says. “As the meal continues, the walls of the structure are actuated by the tide and slowly rise to enclose the former strangers into a more intimate atmosphere symbolizing the inclusion and incorporation of new ideas, peoples and cultures into the story of Portland.”

This concept sketch of Shifting Tides shows how it would rest on the mud flats when the tide is low and begin to float as the tide rises. A mechanism activated by the rising tide would lower all four walls to make it a floating platform. Image courtesy of TempArt

The project needs approval from the city, the Portland Harbor Commission and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. If approved, Shifting Tides would be in place from June through October.

TEMPOart Portland is a relatively new nonprofit group in Portland that says it wants to enliven urban spaces and encourage “residents and visitors alike to engage with what will become a changing array of exciting and innovative installations.”

Last year, the group funded three temporary art projects, including an interactive wall that was installed in Post Office Park.

Although TEMPOart Portland board member Anne Marie Purkey Levine declined to discuss the project until all of the approvals have been secured, she said Shifting Tides is the group’s most ambitious project to date. “We are really excited!” she said in an email.

Shifting Tides is the brainchild of Matthew Mazzotta, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based artist who describes his work as living at the intersection of art, activism and urbanism.


Known for kinetic, interactive installations, Mazzotta has worked all over the country creating public art that is intended to get people to interact with one another and their community. In Alabama, he converted an abandoned house to unfold into an open-air theater with seating. Perhaps his best-known project is Park Spark, which converts dog waste into methane used to power a lamppost in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Mazzotta likes to create community-specific art, so last summer he visited Portland to solicit ideas from the community. He met with visitors in an outdoor living room, which included a carpet and furniture that he set up in a parking lot on Preble Street extension, just across the street from the Hannaford Supermarket.

While such projects are usually only reviewed by the city’s Temporary Art Committee, Mazzotta’s proposal also must receive a marine construction permit from the Portland Harbor Commission, which will hold an informal workshop Tuesday.

Harbor Master Kevin Battle said he hasn’t heard of any opposition to the project, which he described as “unique” and “neat.” He didn’t see any issues with the piece being a hazard to navigation, since it’s being proposed in Back Cove, which is mostly empty and dominated by mud flats at low tide.

“We need to make sure it’s structurally safe,” he said, “and if a storm comes through it’s not going to end up on a neighbor’s lawn or drift out and become a navigational hazard.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: