National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced more than $25 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding for fiscal year 2018. The City of Portland, partnering with the Portland Public Art Committee and the Friends of Congress Square Park, is one of the recommended organizations for an award of $30,000 to the Congress Square Public Art project. The Art Works grant program is the NEA’s largest funding category and supports projects that focus on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning gin the arts, and/or the strengthening of communities through the arts.
“It is energizing to see the impact that the arts are making throughout the United States. These NEA-supported projects, such as this one to the City of Portland, are good examples of how the arts build stronger and more vibrant communities, improve well-being, prepare children to success, and increase the quality of our lives,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “At the National Endowment for the Arts, we believe that all people should have access to the joy, opportunities, and connections that arts bring.”
Congress Square is the heart of the Arts District and a center of activity for neighborhood residents and the arts community attending the First Friday Art Walk and events coordinated by the Friends of Congress Square Park. The Square also provides an important first impression for visitors to the Portland Museum of Art and the Westin Hotel and serves as a neighborhood open space for surrounding residents.
The Congress Square Redesign project is in the design development process and includes the reconfiguration of the Congress Square intersection and concepts for landscape and public artwork. Artist Sarah Sze was selected in 2016 to create the new public art that will inhabit Congress Square Park. The concept currently includes three sculptures within the park. Landscape architecture firm WRT Design is developing the intersection and open space designs in coordination with the public art concept.
The design concepts will be used to raise money to implement the project. The project team anticipates the project, if approved for implementation, will require significant fundraising efforts. The City has pursued several grant opportunities to fund the endeavor and to date has received an NEA Our Town grant and a Quimby Family Foundation grant thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Congress Square Park.
For many years, the City and Portland residents have debated how best to revitalize Congress Square. The Congress Square redesign has become a public-private partnership that includes efforts by City planners, working with the Friends of Congress Square Park and the Portland Public Art Committee, to advance redesign of this important part of Portland. In 2012, the Public Art Committee selected the Square as the next site for a major public art acquisition and has saved funds since that time for this project. The Committee receives 0.5% of the City’s Capital Improvement Project budget each year for conservation of existing artwork and acquisition of new art. In 2014, an art selection panel was created to focus on the Congress Square public art process and is comprised of stakeholders from the Portland Museum of Art, Maine College of Art, the Westin, Friends of Congress Square Park, SPACE Gallery, Portland Society for Architecture, and the Public Art Committee. The Public Art Committee is excited for this unique opportunity to commission original artwork in collaboration with the landscape design. Since 2013, the Friends of Congress Square Park has made dramatic improvements to the public open space by deploying temporary furniture and art installations, events programming, and taking on the responsibility of park maintenance and stewardship. In 2014, the Friends of Congress Square Park, working with Project for Public Spaces, was awarded the Southwest Heart of the Community grant to fund its activities and collect data on the use of the park. The group now has a three-year Memorandum of Understanding with the City to act as placemaking managers providing amenities and events.
For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, visit arts.gov/news.