SKOWHEGAN — The Maine Arts Commission has awarded Main Street Skowhegan funding for “Kennebec on Fire,” a collaborative public art project with the Wesserunsett Arts Council that will bring real fire to the Kennebec River.

Through a Creative Communities = Economic Development implementation grant, Main Street will receive $75,000 over three years to implement the project modeled after the long-running WaterFire project in Providence, Rhode Island, where more than 80 bonfires and artwork by award-winning sculptor Barnaby Evans have been installed on the three rivers of downtown Providence.

Local organizers will have to come up with a one-to-one match for a total project budget of $150,000.

“Kennebec on Fire” will place sculptures with fire braziers in the Kennebec River, starting with an array of three to five sculptures in the Great Eddy in Skowhegan. Sculptures will be lit during festivals and events.

The majority of grant funding will be used for artist commissions, with preference given to local artists.

“This grant is so exciting for our region because several years of work by many dedicated people went into drafting a cultural plan for Somerset County, and ‘Kennebec on Fire’ is a direct result of that planning effort,” said Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan. “We are extremely excited to draw attention to our river, which has been the lifeblood of the community for so long, while at the same time further promoting Skowhegan and the region as a destination for cultural experiences, including outdoor recreation, local food, and of course the arts.”

Cannon and Mary Haley, the project coordinator for WesArts, see the local project as “a tool to help revitalize Somerset County communities.”

Kristina Cannon Morning Sentinel file photo by Doug Harlow

By combining the arts with one of Somerset County’s greatest assets, the Kennebec River, and the allure of river lighting festivals, Main Street and WesArts plan to build a successful and sustainable business model that will bolster tourism, generate prosperity, create a sense of place and draw interest among neighboring communities along the Kennebec, Haley told Skowhegan selectmen in September.

“Kennebec on Fire” will commission artists to create metal sculptures designed around a fire brazier and install them seasonally at approved sites in the Kennebec River. Organizers want Skowhegan to be the location of the first installation, and they have identified the Great Eddy to be viewed from Coburn Park.

“We have budgeted for a minimum of $40,000 for commissions, which will directly benefit artists whose proposals are accepted,” Cannon said.

WesArts and Main Street Skowhegan will collaborate on the project during the first site installation in Skowhegan. Then WesArts, working independently, will continue the project as it grows and moves upriver to other Somerset County municipalities, according to project details.

They also are working with the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and an artist to further define materials and processes for the project and have inquired about necessary permits. The end goal is to have a trail of fire installations up the Kennebec River in different towns along the way.

The installations will be temporary structures in the river and will be seasonal, mounted in late spring and removed before the ice forms in the fall. The structures in the Skowhegan portion of the river would be below the planned Run of River white-water recreation park.

Mary Haley Morning Sentinel file photo by Doug Harlow

“The design incorporates a fire brazier, and because of the location we picked at Coburn Park that can overlook the river, we’ll do regular lightings,” Haley said. “So they’ll be nice to look at during the daytime and also during lighting festivals, when you can see the sculptures on fire, enjoy the park and be another economic driver for bringing people in.”

Cannon said Tuesday that they will be working with a local engineering firm this spring on research and development to help finalize a plan for installing the sculptures. A request for proposals will be sent out in early summer for a prototype sculpture with the goal of it to be completed and installed by this fall.

“Then once we have the prototype installed, we’ll make any necessary tweaks and send out a (request for proposals) for four additional sculptures to be installed in 2020,” she said.

The majority of the required match will be funded by event sponsorships and proceeds as well as in-kind with staff hours administrative expenses. They also have identified several other possible grants they will be applying for.

Preference will be given to local artists. Proposals will be juried by local stakeholders, including artists from the region, according to Cannon.

In addition to Skowhegan, the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce also received a Creative Communities = Economic Development grant. The chamber, serving as the lead organization in partnership with L/A Arts with support from Arts & Culture Lewiston Auburn and the two cities, will use their funding to develop public art programs and policies.

“We are especially pleased to announce these grants,” Julie Richard, executive director of the Arts Commission, said in a news release. “Both of these regions have worked so hard to get here. Their cultural plans are wonderful guides to move their work forward, and we anticipate that the projects they have chosen to work on will provide excellent catalysts for economic success for their communities.”

The Maine Arts Commission provides the grants to support and stimulate initiatives in Maine’s arts and culture sector. The grant requires the successful completion of a cultural plan prior to applying for the funds.

The commission also funds cultural planning for communities and regions as an impetus for this work. As a result, nine Maine communities to date have either completed or are in the process of completing cultural plans.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that Maine’s arts and culture sector contributes $1.5 billion annually to Maine’s economy, representing 2.6 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.


Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]

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