AUGUSTA — More and more, the arts are coming to Augusta’s downtown riverfront.

And it’s not by accident.

With riverfront concerts and other events, a new outdoor, also-riverfront movie night, a growing number of large colorful murals and six new pieces of metal sculpture on loan from an accomplished Maine artist, downtown advocates hope energy and people will likewise be drawn downtown, by the arts.

Artist Will Sears paints a mural on the back of Cushnoc Brewing in Augusta on Wednesday. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Perhaps the hardest to miss artistic addition is the multi-colored abstract mural taking up the entire back upper wall of Cushnoc Brewing’s building overlooking Front Street, which can be seen from the opposite side of the Kennebec River and well beyond, done by Will Sears, a South Portland artist.

The mural joins the recent installation of six pieces of metal sculpture by Saco artist Patrick Pierce, three in Market Square and three more in waterfront park between Front Street and the Kennebec River. Pierce’s sculptures, on loan to be displayed over the summer, are works made of re-purposed industrial metal objects.

Pierce, who has 4 acres of sculpture placed amid fields and woods at his Two Diamond Artfarm, said he offered up the works after meeting Keith Luke, the city’s deputy development director, and learning about efforts to revitalize downtown Augusta.

“He said I could put some work there and it might be a boost to the city’s energy levels, which sounded good to me,” Pierce said of his conversation with Luke and eventual decision to loan the metal sculptures for display in Augusta. “I think works of art change the energy around an area. It interacts with the space and changes it. This seemed like an opportunity to share the energy of that with a city on the move.”

Heather Pouliot, president of the board of directors of Augusta Downtown Alliance, a group primarily made up of downtown merchants, said the alliance has worked for years to bring more arts to downtown, seeing art as a way to draw people to the area. Past events have included art walks, a pop-up art studio, and the installation of two large murals, one visible high on a building wall at the intersection of Bridge and Water streets, the other on a concrete wall on Front Street and visible from on and across the Kennebec River.

“The changes we are seeing downtown are not random — the alliance has been working for years to get to this point, which is really a tipping point,” Pouliot said. “We saw this as a way to bring people downtown, and create more of a community feel where people want to hang out, rather than just a throughway to cross town. Successful economic development and a true revitalization is composed of lots of small things happening consistently. It’s not the one big thing that is going to make downtown Augusta magically become vibrant again, it’s all the little things working together synergistically around a plan that will truly make it happen.”

While the downtown, named to the National Register of Historic Place last year, still struggles to compete for customers with big box retail stores and has a storefront vacancy rate of about 60 percent, it has seen the arrival of multiple new restaurants, bars and upper-floor apartments in recent years.

Cushnoc Brewing on Water Street, which has a downstairs tasting room on the Front Street side of the building, is one of the recent arrivals, and home to the latest artistic addition, Sears’ mural, which features several colors and abstract text-like shapes and pops, visually, against the otherwise largely red brick backdrop seen from the opposite side of the river.

Sears, who with his wife has done multiple pieces of art as part of the Portland Mural Initiative, said he loves public art because, in part, it is more accessible to people than a piece hanging in a gallery.

“As an individual I love being around art and I hope other people feel the same way,” he said before going up on a lift to put the finishing touches on the mural, which is his own design, last week. “It’s nice to bring the conversation of art to the public.”

A stage is set up Wednesday next to the Kennebec River in Augusta for a concert this week. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Last week was also the first presentation of a new outdoor movie series, shown on a big screen stretched across a portable stage owned by the city on the waterfront park lawn, jointly sponsored by the downtown alliance, Children’s Discovery Museum and Healthy Communities of the Capital Area.

The first movie, shown Thursday night, was “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Additional free movie nights are planned July 19, showing “The Greatest Showman,” Aug. 2 “Black Panther,” and Aug. 9 “Sherlock Gnomes.” All movies are scheduled to start at 8 p.m.

“We’re excited because it’s a new way for people to get outdoors, experience the waterfront and watch some great films,” said Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance.

In addition to regular Waterfront Wednesday concerts by local bands, this summer the west side waterfront spot also hosted a July 6 performance by popular Maine band The Mallett Brothers and, July 26 will be the site for a concert by national touring band Dustbowl Revival, with both shows helping to raise funds to restore and reopen the historic but long-vacant Colonial Theater, which is just north of the concert site, on Water Street.

Mayor David Rollins said the Mallett Brothers show was great and showcased that part of the city, though he said he wished more people showed up to see that showcase, as attendance was smaller than he had hoped.

“It was fantastic, the band put on a great show, there were sturgeon jumping all night, a bald eagle made an appearance, it was a great setting, everything was great,” Rollins said. “The one thing we could have had was a bigger crowd.”

Tobias Parkhurst, a co-owner of Cushnoc Brewing, developer of other downtown buildings, and president of the board which is leading efforts to restore the Colonial Theater, said any increase in the arts in Augusta is good for the prospects of one day restoring the theater and using it to draw people downtown for concerts and other performances.

“I think a lot of what is happening downtown just helps chip away at the idea of what Augusta is or has to be, and gives some people who think maybe our city doesn’t have a place for them some reassurance,” Parkhurst said. “Every step forward downtown takes brings the Colonial one step closer. We live in a city that’s starving for some culture and every time there is a little hint of it people come out of the woodwork.”

The downtown alliance paid $6,000, which Pouliot said was a discounted charge, for Sears’ to paint the mural on Cushnoc. She said the alliance was looking for a good spot for a mural and Cushnoc’s owners offered their riverside wall.

Parkhurst said Cushnoc expanded by opening its tasting room on the Front Street/riverside of its building in part to take advantage of the fact downtown Augusta has what he described as a huge, free parking lot right on the river. Having the mural painted on the wall, he said, seemed like a cool way to further those efforts. He said they couldn’t be happier with how the mural turned out.

The city of Augusta paid about $2,300 to cover the cost of transporting Pierce’s large sculptures to and from Augusta for display, which Luke said would come out of an existing marketing account. He said in recent years many officials and residents of Augusta have expressed interest in increasing the amount of public art in the city.

Hall said the recent, and coming, events have and will help reach overall goals of emphasizing the river and highlighting the arts as ways to bring renewed energy downtown.

“It seems like the right moment for Augusta to finally pop,” he said. “We’re doing this one piece at a time, but people are noticing. We’re trying to create a downtown worthy of a capitol city.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.