By Diana Bowley, BDN Staff: DEXTER, Maine — Rather than expend a hefty portion of the Ridge View Community School's state Percent for Art allocation on a rendition of a topographical map of the Dexter area, SAD 46 directors are looking for many pieces of local artwork to grace the new school's walls.
In 1979, the Maine Legislature created the Percent for Art program, which allows a small percentage of construction costs for public buildings to be used for art. The law covers public schools, technical colleges, University of Maine System facilities, and all state buildings. Since the law was passed, more than 1,300 works of art have been purchased or commissioned.
In 2009-10, $525,339 in state money was allotted for 16 projects. In 2010-11, $388,318 is available for 11 projects in progress. Those projects are at the Bureau of General Services in Augusta, $16,220; University College in Bangor, $8,300; Piscataquis District Courthouse in Dover-Foxcroft, $13,800; and $50,000 each to Dexter's Ridge View School, Chelsea Community School, Mallett Elementary School in Farmington, Mount Blue Learning Center in Farmington, Hampden Academy, Jefferson Village School, and Woolwich Central School. Schools that participate are limited to $50,000 per building in Percent for Art funds.
As is the case with all Percent for Art projects, a committee that includes two members of the Maine Arts Commission who are local artists, along with two school officials and the architect, review samples of the work of several artists. These committee meetings are open to the public.
In SAD 46's case, samples from about 68 different artists were reviewed before the committee recommended the rendition of the topographical map by Colin Sullivan-Stevens of Freeport.
While the art proposal from Sullivan-Stevens was a good one, SAD 46 Superintendent Kevin Jordan said the school committee voted 6-2 against the project because it wanted lots of art projects in the new school.
''We have decided that we would like to pursue local artists and look at putting many individual pieces of art in the building versus one huge project,'' Jordan said recently. He said that once directors select the artwork they would like, it still must be approved by the Maine Arts Commission.
Donna McNeil, director of the Maine Arts Commission, said that what SAD 46 is doing is permitted under the regulations. In addition, communities also have a choice of whether to participate in the Percent for Art program. If they choose not to — and at least one does every 10 years — the money goes back into the General Fund, she said Monday.
Those involved with the new projects are encouraged to select work by Maine artists but can look outside the state, McNeil said. All art forms are considered, including paintings, stained-glass windows, ceramic murals, sculpture, fiber art, photography and prints.
The Percent for Art program is an important one, according to McNeil. It not only recognizes the need to enhance culture in the arts, but it encourages the development of artists, she said Monday. The main criterion considered is the inherent quality of the artwork itself.
McNeil said the program offers other benefits. ''It embellishes schools and other building projects,'' she said. It also serves as a great point of inspiration for those who have to work or attend school in those buildings, she noted.
For the pupils who attend the school, it provides a mentorship situation similar to job shadowing, because children see that they can become an artist and earn money, according to McNeil.
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