Thursday, May 05, 2011


Mural-removal debate continues at event today
By Matt Dodge
Apr 08, 2011 12:00 am

A lunchtime public forum today at the Portland Museum of Art is scheduled to feature both supporters and opponents of Governor Paul LePage’s decision to remove a labor mural from a government building two week ago.

The event, called “Whose Art Is It?” will feature opening statements from the labor mural’s creator, Tremont artist Judy Taylor, as well as comments from PMA director Mark Bessire before a panel of five speakers – representing Maine’s art and business communities – discuss issues of public art and the controversial removal of the mural from Maine’s Department of Labor.

The removal set off a firestorm and made international headlines, with a variety of organizations protesting the governor's decision.
Today's discussion will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the PMA’s auditorium. Admission is free, but on a first-come, first-served basis. Organizers say they seek to continue a conversation.

“We were listening to a lot of the conversations taking place and there seemed to not have been any dialogue. It seemed like the museum would be a good place to create a forum for a discussion on the issue,” said Bessire.

Seeking a politically balanced panel, the PMA organizers said their first call was to the office of LePage, but the governor could not fit the forum into his schedule. “It just wasn’t going to work out,” said Bessire.

Sharon Corwin, Director and Chief Curator of the Colby College Museum of Art, Christina Bechstein, Sculpture Professor and Director of Public Engagement at Maine College of Art will also serve on the panle.

The moderator for the event will be Alan Hinsey, producer and host of statewide business television show Mainebiz Sunday. “We felt it was important to have moderator who wasn’t coming in on one side, that’s why I invited Alan,” he said.

“I hope we have a good conversation and both sides are represented,” said Bessire. “We’re not trying to point fingers.”

To that end, the PMA decided to narrow the focus of the forum to a common questions that arises in the debate over public artwork. “The subtitle of the event is “Whose Art Is It?” which is just one of those classic public art question, “ said Bessire.

“The money made available by the government, but once it goes into a public government building, who is responsible for it? Whose art is it?” he said.

The museum held off hosting such a forum until now, waiting until all the facts on the mural’s removal came in. “We spent some time analyzing the situation. Each day it seemed like more information kept coming out, so we waited until all the issues were really on the table,” said Bessire.

City councilor and artist David Marshall said he plans to attend today’s forum, and is happy that, controversy aside, the arts are being discussed on a large stage.

“I think there is a lot of good that can come out of this,” he said. “What the government has done inadvertently is make the artist and mural famous and taught us more about labor history than we ever knew.”

Marshall said he hopes that the debate over the mural will make the LePage administration reconsider the impact on art and artists on Maine’s economy, a positive trend he said has been growing in recent years.

“At this point, the creative economy is almost as big as [Maine’s] manufacturing industry,” said Marshall, citing 63,000 jobs in the state categorized as “creative industries”.

By comparison, Maine’s manufacturing industry employees 68,000 Mainers, local government employs 60,000 and the wood products industry employs 7,500, according to Marshall.

“The creative economy will pass manufacturing in the near future. The arts industry has grown 24 percent in the last five year. We need to be making decisions that will continue that growth,” he said.

An increased focus on Maine’s creative economy would prove a wise investment for the future, said Marshall, noting that such jobs are far less likely to be outsourced to foreign countries.

“We’re starting to see our manufacturing base disappear. But creative economy jobs are the ones that are going to stay around because you cant outsource these things for pennies on the dollar,” he said.

“That's’ where we need to bank our future, on the types of jobs that aren’t going to be moving overseas,” said Marshall.

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