It’s not about the art

Looking behind the effort to paint South Portland oil tanks
By JEFF INGLIS  |  September 3, 2008
SHARP ANGLES: Jaime Gili’s signature style.

"Words over pictures," Evaluating the semifinalists for “Art All Around," by Ken Greenleaf
The real goal behind the Art All Around project, which proposes to paint original artists’ designs on several Sprague Energy Corporation oil tanks in South Portland, will be fulfilled even if none of the tanks is ever decorated.

According to Jean Maginnis, who dreamed up the idea and is coordinating the effort to bring it to life, the project is not actually about art for art’s sake. Instead, she says, it’s about forcing “a large public discussion of art.”

Maginnis, the founder, executive director, and sole employee of the Maine Center for Creativity, the “group” that spearheaded the effort, is getting her wish. Five semifinalists’ proposals — all abstract designs — were selected by jury from 560 submissions and made public in the middle of last month (see “Words Over Pictures,” by Ken Greenleaf). And since then, the outcry has been deafening. Though her organization has raised just $200,000 of the $1.2 million needed to actually put paint on steel, hundreds — even thousands — of Portland-area residents are thinking and talking about art, though not exactly the way Maginnis might have hoped. (See sidebar, “Talk of the Town.”)

Good intentions
Maginnis is a passionate defender of her brainchild, initially responding to a Portland Phoenix request for an interview and up-close viewing of the proposals by saying “I’m not going to share my information with you if this is something you’re going to attack.”

She did eventually grant us an interview, in which she explained that she wants her three-year-old organization’s signature project to appeal to several distinct audiences, mostly far from Maine.

-international media outlets, which might cover Maine as an artsy destination;

-art-interested people around the country and the globe, who might travel to Maine if they thought about it as a creative place;

-Google Earth users across the Internet, who might see the painted tops of the tanks on their computer screens, if and when the Web-based satellite-photo database adds new images;

-business owners and leaders everywhere, who might be inspired to use artists’ work or artistic approaches in business applications;

-investors, who might bring their businesses to Maine if they were more aware of how creative our state’s residents are;

-artists, who might benefit from being able “to feel that they are able to make their dreams come true;”

-and, ultimately, the millions of people — mostly Portland-area residents but also visitors — using cars, boats, airplanes, trains, bicycles, and even just their feet on routes from which they can view the tanks.

These are, indeed, positive intentions — efforts to “put Maine on the map in the national and international markets,” and even trying to get people who bad-mouth the Pine Tree State to start “saying something different about Maine than ‘it’s not worth investing in.’”

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Related: Words over pictures, Skatepark design picked, Trying out an anti-demonstration ‘sonic cannon’, More more >
  Topics: News Features , John Baldacci, Ken Greenleaf, Jean Maginnis,  More more >
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