An example provided by the Augusta Downtown Alliance of how the city’s sturgeon art might look. Photo by Mike Hurley

AUGUSTA — The leaping sturgeon in the Kennebec River should expect some competition next summer.

By then, 25 colorful, life-size sturgeon of the fiberglass variety are to be installed in and around downtown Augusta.

“It’s a way to get people down here,” said Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance. “It will be a semipermanent exhibit. They’re made of a very durable material. It’s a fun way to add some color and create some art.”

Beginning next summer, the installations are expected through a placemaking grant T-Mobile has awarded to Augusta and another two dozen communities across the nation.

“What they liked about it was the fact that the sturgeon tie into the identity of what we’ve got here,” Hall said. “Sturgeon are very much part of the culture here. You have hundreds of people who gather on the waterfront every summer just to watch them jump in and out of the water.”

Working with Main Street America and Smart Growth America, two organizations focused on building strong and prosperous small communities, T-Mobile has awarded the 25 grants in this round of funding. The company has committed $25 million to community development projects over the next five years.

Augusta’s project follows a theme similar to what other communities embraced have in the past — bears in Belfast, cows in Boston, cowboy boots in Cheyenne, Wyoming — to highlight the character of places and draw attention.

The Kennebec River has some of the best habitats for sturgeon in Maine and is home to two species: Endangered shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon, whose population is considered depleted.

Every year in late spring and summer, Atlantic sturgeon launch themselves into the air from the Kennebec River. No one is sure why.

Hall said the Downtown Alliance is planning to put out a call to artists and artists’ organizations, companies and nonprofits to adopt a sturgeon to add their own theme or colors to their sturgeon. The sturgeon art is to be installed throughout downtown Augusta. Once done, a map of the sturgeon will be distributed among hotels and other spots in Augusta, inviting visitors to find all of the art.

Bruce Chase, director of Augusta Parks and Recreation, said most of the sturgeon art is expected to go to city parks or other city property.

An example provided by the Augusta Downtown Alliance of how the city’s sturgeon art might look. Photo by Mike Hurley

“We’re going to want to put them in prominent locations around downtown, probably at the east side boat landing and a number of other locations,” Chase said. “We haven’t decided on where those locations are at, at this point. We haven’t gotten that far in the process.”

Still being considered: How long the sturgeon art will be in place, whether they would be at risk of damage from snow removal and how they will be maintained.

“We’re looking forward to this project,” Chase said. “It will be nice for downtown Augusta.”

The announcement came at the annual meeting of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, during which the largely volunteer organization reviewed its accomplishments for 2021, including new business openings, events, improvements to pedestrian safety and art projects.

At the meeting, Hall said the sturgeon art is a perfect allegory for downtown Augusta because after reaching a population that was at a historic low, the fish have returned to the river after the removal of the Edwards Dam.

“At first, it was a trickle and then a flood,” Hall said. “Since then, they return every summer to swim against the tide. The people downtown do the same. Every year, we have more and more people coming to open businesses, live and play in our downtown.”

The fiberglass sturgeon, created by an artist from Belfast, will be depicted in different positions of jumping, some leaping into the air and others coming down.

 


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