ICONIC: Sprague Energy Tank Farm in South Portland, ME

Sprague Gas Tanks in South Portland, ME. Photo courtesy of the Maine Center for Creativity.

Sprague Gas Tanks in South Portland, ME. Photo courtesy of the Maine Center for Creativity.

Before 2009, if you flew into the Portland International Airport, or if you were driving into town on I-295, you might have peered through your window and seen a large industrial tank farm on the Fore River waterfront.  What you were looking at is a set of oil storage tanks owned by Sprague Energy Corporation in South Portland.  After 2009, if all goes as planned, you will be looking at the largest public art painting in the world to date.

In 2008, the Maine Center for Creativity approached the Sprague Energy Corporation with an idea for a new initiative: to use public art to transform sixteen of Sprague’s oil storage tanks on the Portland harbor, totaling 260,000 square feet of painted surface. Art All Around®, which “both celebrates and symbolizes the creativity that abounds in Maine,” is the organization’s first international competition, which involved an open design competition and a “select, international panel of [nine] judges.”

Five semifinalists received $10,000 prizes; the grand prize was an additional $20,000 and the implementation of the design.  The winner, Venezuelan-born English artist Jaime Gili, proposed painting the tanks with a series of sharp, colored, intersecting angles that are best viewed “while in motion,” said the artist. While neighboring communities in Portland and South Portland were not part of the artist selection committee, the Maine Center for Creativity and its board have been conscious of a need to introduce Gili to the area.  In 2009, Gili and his wife spent a week in Portland giving talks and displaying his artwork at Portland’s Whitney Art Works.

With project costs estimated at $1.3 million, major fundraising initiatives have been required and the project has been implemented in phases—which, in retrospect, is an interesting strategy to generate additional enthusiasm and support for the project as it is slowly realized.  Funding has been entirely from private donations.  Portland’s business community has rallied behind the project.  Business owner and Maine Center for Creativity board member Charles Lawton said the project is good for the Maine economy “because it emphasizes the link between creativity and industry,” and that link is essential to economic growth, because creativity leads to job growth. As of August 9, 2011, the Maine Center for Creativity had raised all but $350,000 for the project.