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March 5, 2020

Portland MLK Memorial Committee closes selection process without a winner

Courtesy / City of Portland The MLK Selection Committee Task Force agreed Tuesday not to recommend the proposed memorial submitted by UMA professor Robert Katz, depicted in this rendering.

Portland's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Selection Committee agreed Tuesday to close the process without choosing a design, after committee members said the one submission left didn't represent what they were looking for.

While committee members said Tuesday night they liked a lot about the proposal by University of Maine at Augusta professor Robert Katz's team, they wanted to see something that more strongly represents the civil rights leader as well as something that would draw in the community more.

The committee voted unanimously to not make a recommendation to the city council, but chair Jill Duson said it doesn't necessarily mean the committee is disbanded. Duson, a city councilor, said that she'd find out what the options are, since there's a budget for the project, and she'd like to see if there's a future opportunity to implement an MLK memorial.

The city has allocated $100,000 for the memorial, raised from the sale of city property.

"I'm very comfortable in reporting back to my colleagues that we're just not there," said Duson. "There's not a proposal that we're enthused about moving forward." She said the next step is yet to be figured out "but this process will close without us having selected an artist or artist team."

'Just not resonating'

Members of the committee said they didn't want to make the artist keep making modifications to his artistic vision. The proposed memorial, which would be on the Bayside Trail, had a garden feel, with a large empty chair and pyramid. While symbolic, the committee had hoped for a stronger vision.

Marcia Minter, of Indigo Arts Alliance, a creative consultant to the committee said that the "quality of the work, the quality of the thinking, the quality of the thoughtfulness and the good intention," and all the resources that went into Katz's submission should be acknowledged.

"It's a fine and good presentation and concept, it's just not resonating for this committee, and for us, with the spirit of Dr. King we had hoped to see," she said. The committee is looking for something that will "enable the community to be able to gather and feel that spirit of welcome."

She, Duson and other committee members agreed it's not fair to the artist, or respectful of his art, to ask for continual changes to a work.

"As much as in my heart I want us to have this memorial and get it done too, I also don't want to have to force someone to do something that isn't something they're naturally navigating toward," Minter said. "I so want to move it forward and think they're very talented and capable," but asking for a lot of changes ultimately makes something that isn't the artist's original vision.

As an artist, she empathizes with artists who that's asked of, she said. "It never comes out right at that point," she said. "I just don't want to put somebody in that position."

Last one standing

The Katz submission was the last one standing after nine submissions last year, and three finalists chose in November. The plan was to announce a winner on Jan. 20, Martin Luther King Day, but the committee wanted more tweaks from the two remaining finalists.

TJD&A Landscape Architects, of Yarmouth, withdrew, in February and Ironwood Design Group, of Newmarket, N.H., withdrew after it was selected as one of the three finalists in November.

Plans are to install a memorial will be installed on the Bayside Trail, a paved walking trail in West Bayside that runs from Franklin Arterial to Pearl Street Extension, behind buildings fronting Marginal Way. The memorial is intended to inspire visitors to reflect on King’s life and the values he espoused, prompting everyone to consider how they can contribute to realizing his vision of an equitable and fair society, according to the selection committee's web page.

The city council’s Sustainability & Transportation Committee established the MLK Memorial Selection Committee to oversee the process, and the committee, if it continues, would make a recommendation back to the S&T Committee, which will send a formal recommendation to the council.

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