WATERVILLE — It started with a mural of three children, two smiling and one looking pensively into the distance. Then there was a child playing with a bright yellow duck as it floated by on waves near an upside down umbrella. And a girl dressed in purple making her way down a set of stairs followed by her shadow.

Soon, more public art will grace the walls of the once-neglected alley behind The Concourse shopping plaza, an area plagued by litter and vandalism but now in the midst of a transformation.

The site is home to an evolving public art installation that has come together with the help of Joe’s Smoke Shop & Happy Trails, the city, downtown arts organization Waterville Creates! and Least of These Ministries, a project focused on addressing homelessness and based out of the Kingdom Life Church in Oakland.

“When we first came over here about a month ago and were talking about this, it was a garbage dump back here,” said Andy Chapman, who works at Joe’s Smoke Shop, which was commissioned to create the installation after they put in their own separate mural on the side of the shop last month. “So, it’s come quite a ways.”

On a recent sunny afternoon, Chapman, 37, and his co-worker, the shop’s manager, Sullivan O’Keeffe, were painting a swing set and the far reaching branch of a tree on a landscape that will soon grace the right hand side of the alley.

The project started after Chapman and O’Keeffe’s father, James T. O’Keeffe, decided to put their own mural on the side of the smoke shop last month. Located on Temple Street, it was designed by Chapman, inspired by the work of England-based street artist Banksy and depicts four figures holding red balloons and floating over a city skyline.


“It’s something we’d been talking about doing permanently for years and then my dad happened to be in Andy’s house and saw his artwork and thought, ‘This would be perfect,'” said O’Keeffe, 20.

The smoke shop mural went up overnight in early September, and it wasn’t long after that Chapman said he was approached by downtown arts organization Waterville Creates! about doing a similar project behind The Concourse.

The idea also came about with the help of the city, which owns the property, and Least of These Ministries.

Ricky Franzose, who directs the ministry along with his wife, Michelle, said they were cleaning up the alley behind The Concourse recently and thought it might be a good area for a public art project.

“So we reached out to (Waterville Parks and Recreation Director) Matt Skehan and they reached out to Waterville Creates! and before you know it, it was a done deal,” Franzose said.

In the past, the area, which city workers refer to as The Concourse “wall,” has been an eyesore and a depository for trash, said Waterville Parks and Recreation Director Matt Skehan. People have called to complain about the stairs connecting Elm Street to The Concourse.


“It’s been so ugly, folks have stayed away from that area,” he said. “We thought it would be a great place for public art.”

Similarly, Waterville Creates! President and CEO Shannon Haines said she was also excited by the idea. The group was able to put together a $10,000 grant through its Partner Incentive Grant program to fund the project.

“That area I feel has been neglected for a long time,” Haines said. “It was literally a blank canvas waiting to be painted.”

Now, there are three completed murals and two others in the works behind the alley. One shows the faces of Chapman’s three children — Ayla, Nya and Alonna — next to another mural of a child bending down next to a small yellow duck.

A third mural on the stairs leading up to Elm Street shows a girl dressed in purple with her shadow following her down the stairs.

On Tuesday, Chapman and O’Keeffe were working on a landscape that they hope to involve the community with by inviting children to paint flowers and animals. No details have been worked out, but Chapman said he’d like to see something happen by early November.


He’s also working on a fifth mural to contain portraits of 10 different community members or people from the area.

Chapman said he’s hopeful the new art will get the community to feel invested in the space and keep it clean. There’s also the potential to add more murals down the length of the alley if additional funding becomes available.

The project comes as the city is undergoing a downtown revitalization fueled largely by $65 million in investments by Colby College and the new presence of a Colby dorm downtown.

The college is also working with Waterville Creates! on the development of a downtown arts hub at 93 Main Street.

And last week the city dedicated a new $1.5 million RiverWalk park along the Kennebec River that includes a 900-foot boardwalk, children’s play area, gazebo and small amphitheater.

“All of these improvements are part of a larger downtown revitalization effort,” Haines said. “As people have been investing and making these improvements, I think it’s important to also think about the public space — banners, street space, flowers, public art — all these things are important to making downtown a welcoming place for everyone.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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