Saturday, March 26, 2011


Mural might move to Portland
By Stacey May
Mar 26, 2011 12:00 am

Labor mural could move to City Hall

The now-controversial mural at the state Department of Labor that Gov. Paul LePage ordered removed this week might be “loaned” to Portland City Hall under a tentative deal announced yesterday.

Advocates of that plan say moving the 36-foot, 11-panel mural depicting images of Maine’s labor history to Portland ensures it won’t be sold, locked away in a closet, or donated to a private museum. But some city councilors say it’s too soon to start measuring the hallways at City Hall.

“It’s not (coming to Portland) unless the city council votes for it to come to town,” Councilor Dave Marshall said yesterday, adding that no public hearing on the artwork has been scheduled.

“We certainly would have the room for it, but we would have to figure out if there is support on the council for it or not,” Marshall continued. “It’s more of an idea at this point than a decision."

Mayor Nick Mavodones says doesn’t want Porltand to be seen as “enabling” the removal of the mural from state offices, and like Marshall, he thinks it should stay right where it is.

But, Mavodones says he's open to installing it in Portland. “There is a lot of history in that mural, and I think it’s best if it stays there,” he said. “But if it’s going to be moved, I think we have the space.”

Tremont resident Judy Taylor created the mural several years ago after winning a $60,000 federal grant. The piece features memorable events in Maine’s labor history, including “Rosie the Riveter” at Bath Iron Works, child laborers, and a 1986 labor strike at a paper mill.

“I don’t agree that it’s one-sided,” Ms. Taylor told the New York Times this week. “It’s based on historical fact. I’m not sure how you can say history is one-sided.”

LePage apparently disagreed. The governor made international headlines this week when he ordered the mural removed, saying some business owners complained it was overtly pro-labor. But according to published reports, the only complaint about the mural came from a single, anonymous fax.

Democrats and labor groups largely opposed the decision, which some described as “mean spirited,” and an attack on unions. The spat was covered by the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and dozens of other media outlets. While much of the coverage seemed to question LePage’s motives, the Lewiston Sun Journal sided with LePage in an editorial.

“All the administration is saying is that we want a Department of Labor that is welcoming to both sides of the equation, and right now it’s just representative of one,” LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said yesterday in a phone interview.

State Rep. Ben Chipman, I-Portland, helped broker the compromise that could send the mural to Portland. He too would rather the piece stay where it is, but says installing it at Portland City Hall is better than some of the alternatives.

“I got really worried about what was going to happen to it, and I wanted to make sure it was available and accessible to the public,” he said yesterday, adding that he feared the governor might sell the art to “raise money for the budget.”

Chipman, whose district includes City Hall, says he favors that site because it sits on the original site of the Maine State House, which was erected when Portland was the capital. That building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1866, according to a news release, though the capital was moved to Augusta in 1832.

The state’s labor department is located several miles from the Capitol, in a nondescript office building not far from Interstate 95. Like many in Augusta, Chipman had never seen Taylor’s work before this week.

“I had never been there to see it. I think that a lot of people weren't really aware that it was there until this came up,” said Chipman, who is serving his first term.

Bennett agreed the mural was not a major “tourist attraction” at the labor department’s offices.

“It’s a place where obviously a lot of people go in and out of that lobby all day long … but I don’t think it’s a destination, per se, for anyone,” she said.

Bennett added that nobody in the administration expected the issue would reach an “international level.”

“The whole point is, we did not make this as big as an issue as people on the other side,” she said. “We are welcoming to all kinds of art for the Department of Labor, but the fact of matter is, there is only one side represented here, and its not an appropriate place for that 36-foot mural that cost taxpayers $60,000.”

Mavodones says a city council public hearing on the mural will be scheduled soon, potentially as soon as the April 4. He didn’t rule out hosting a special session on the topic, in anticipation of a large crowd.

If councilors vote to accept the art on loan, many details must still be worked out, such as where to put it (officials seem to think a second floor hallway is best), and who will pay to have it moved (the city says it’s coming at no cost, but Bennett says Portland offered to pay).

Mavodones expected fellow councilors would welcome the mural, but it’s not clear what would happen to the mural if Portland doesn’t accept it.

Meantime, LePage officials are seeking a replacement for Taylor’s piece. They want art that “depicts the cooperative relationship that exists between Maine’s job creators and the workers who power Maine’s economy,” according to a statement.

For now, the mural is still hanging in the labor department, where it will stay until a decision is made on where it’s headed.

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