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USM artist-in-residence leads local immigrant and refugee teens to create unique art

University of Southern Maine Art Department's artist-in-residence Natasha Mayers is leading immigrant and refugee teens from the Portland Public Schools in a public art project welcoming New Mainers to Portland. Under Natasha’s leadership, community members and students are working together to paint buoys depicting the flags of the more than 70 countries represented by Portland's newest residents. 

Some of these buoys are now on display as part of the Maine Historical Society's "400 Years of New Mainers" exhibition, which was co-curated by Reza Jalali, coordinator of Multicultural Student Affairs at the USM. The works were hung by a group of USM art student volunteers, Mackenzie Moore, Caitlin Warner, Sara Laughlin, and Farrin Hanson, several of whom helped with the buoy painting project as well.

An image of some the buoys was posted Friday on the Portland Downtown Facebook site.

So far the group has painted more than 40 buoys representing Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Burundi, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Botswana, China, Colombia, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine and Vietnam.

And more buoys are coming.

The project teams Mayers with students from Portland's Multilingual & Multicultural Center's "Make It Happen!" Program. The program offers academic support, language acquisition, and college readiness program for refugees and immigrants in grades eight through twelve. "Make It Happen!" AmeriCorps Site Coordinators and volunteer academic coaches help students to take challenging classes, develop competitive college applications, and engage in leadership activities and civic opportunities.

Images of students with buoys

Mayers, USM's artist in residence for the Spring semester, plans to take buoys to more places, including the Portland Jetport and onto the surface of Portland Harbor.

Mayers hopes the display will increase awareness to the area's diversity and help people appreciate the contributions and struggles of our new neighbors.