LEWISTON, Maine — If you're driving down Bartlett Street in Lewiston, you might notice that a once-drab slab of concrete has new life.
The mural, titled "City of Us," features more than a dozen flags from other countries and is designed to promote inclusion in one of Maine's most diverse cities. The project was made possible by a 2018 planning grant and finally came to life in mid-July.
"It’s a very simple mural, but it’s also very intricate, as well," Eamon White, the artist selected to design the mural, said.
White, a local art teacher, decided to invite local students to take part in the painting process.
"It’s nice for the kids to have something they own that they identify with," White said. "I think it allows the kids to express who they are. Some students don’t really feel comfortable talking. They want to draw out their feelings."
One of White's students, 19-year-old Dominic Comeau Gosselin, was born and raised in Maine. Even though he says he can't necessarily relate to the struggles people of different skin tones face, he was intrigued by this project and learned from it.
"I wasn’t expecting to see this many flags, honestly," Comeau Gosselin said. "I was expecting to see maybe six [or] seven."
He says the area where the mural is located needed some attention. This project apparently did the trick.
"People were coming out from the community saying, ‘Hey, you brightened up the neighborhood,’ and all of these nice things about it, which kind of helped," Comeau Gosselin said.
Fowsia Musse is the executive director of Maine Community Integration, an ethnic-based organization in downtown Lewiston. She says she encouraged some of the girls she works with to take part in the project after learning about its message.
"You know, a lot of the youth who are new to the U.S., particularly Maine, are still finding their way and their sense of belonging," Musse said.
The grant for the "City of Us" mural actually helped position the city for a larger grant of $30 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for its "Choice Neighborhoods Initiative," awarded in May of 2021. That money will be used to help revitalize the downtown.
"It was just mass jubilation in this community," Darby Ray, co-chair of the L-A Public Art Working Group, said. "We were the first small city ever to get this particular grant — groundbreaking nationally for that."
Ray says residents and community members have helped to develop the transformation plan for the city. She added it's exciting that public art is such a big part of the conversation.
"It’s through the arts that humanity's deepest feelings and hopes, joys, and struggles are often manifest[ed]," Ray said.
To learn more about Lewiston's Choice Neighborhood Initiative, click here.