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April 17, 2000).
Civic art gives
some a headache Giant fist, joined
heads: costly eyesores or good deal?
Max Ortiz / The
Sculptor Janice Trimpe puts the
finishing touches on clay figures at her Grosse Pointe Park
studio. The city of Roseville plans to use the work at City Hall.
Public art With flush budgets and the
desire to stand out from their neighbors, some Metro Detroit
communities are anxious to add artwork to their parks and public
spaces. But it's not easy to find a piece of art, or even a topic,
that everyone can agree upon. * Kmart gave
Troy an unusual bronze sculpture entitled Corporate Head. City
officials are now scratching their own heads to determine what to
do with it. * Mt. Clemens is placing four
sculptures in its downtown. * Roseville
recently commissioned a statue. * Sterling
Heights and Birmingham are planning to add more art to public
venues. * A statue of Detroit founder
Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac will be unveiled in July in Hart
Kurth / The Detroit News
TROY -- A huge juxtaposition of bronze heads
that defies easy description sits in storage here and may become the
latest casualty between politics and public sensibilities.
Some Troy officials admit they're baffled about
Corporate Head, a two-story sculpture depicting interlocking craniums
that some find intimidating. It graced Kmart headquarters for three
decades, but executives seeking a spiffier image gave the work to Troy
this fall. Officially, Troy is delighted, but the
mood may become less gracious in the next few months when the City
Council tries to figure out what to do with the thing.
"There was hesitation from some about whether we
should accept it," said Councilman Anthony Pallotta, who won't say what
he thinks of the big head. "Some look at it and say 'how ugly.' Others
think 'oooh, it's so beautiful.' The sticking point will be where it
will be located, whether to put it in the woods somewhere between the
trees or in front of the Civic Center for all to see."
Corporate Head is as good a symbol as any for the
paradox of public art in Metro Detroit. Seeking to add character and
enhance civic reputations, more suburbs are buying sculptures during
these good economic times. Often, though, staid sensibilities make them
tough political sells. Mt. Clemens is in the
middle of a program that has added four downtown sculptures in two
years. Roseville recently commissioned a statue,
while Sterling Heights and Birmingham are planning more public art.
Private donations, meanwhile, are funding a statue of Detroit founder
Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, which will be unveiled in July in Hart
Plaza. Grosse Pointe Park sculptor Janice Trimpe said business from
cities is better than ever. Still, rows in the
past few years have some skittish about alienating taxpayers with stuff
that inspires love-hate relationships. Many in
Royal Oak are still steamed about a 40-foot-tall naked couple next to
City Hall and the library that cost $700,000, even though private
contributions paid for most of it. Birmingham dramatically scaled back
its commitment after a $300,000 debacle over plans for a 300-foot-long,
35-foot-high sculpture along Woodward. And that's
just the suburbs. Don't get Detroiters started about the Joe Louis fist,
which still inspires vigorous debates about its esthetics and political
implications 14 years after Sports Illustrated gave it to the city.
Max Ortiz / The
"Star Dream Fountain" debuted in
Royal Oak in 1997, and residents are still are divided over the
nude figures gracing the front of the Civic
Community investment "As
affluent as Troy is, we should have more public art," Mayor Jeanne Stine
said. "We were so busy working and planning the city that we put
amenities behind us. But you're damned if you do and damned if you
don't. Everyone's not going to appreciate it the same way. You open
yourself up to criticism about spending taxes. It's difficult to justify
that kind of money when people are complaining about roads."
Advocates argue that art is a comparatively small
investment in a community. Statues usually cost $100,000 or less, and
last longer and create a homier feel than street resurfacings, which
cost 10 times as much or more. The state wants
more civic art, but sometimes has trouble finding takers. This year, the
Michigan Council for the Arts provided $60,000 total in grants to
Roseville, Grand Rapids and Mt. Clemens. It sought a partnership with a
consortium to fund more projects, but none answered the call.
"We're seeing a revival now because times are
good," said Maura Campbell, a spokeswoman for the arts council. "We're
trying to change people's attitudes to make them feel strongly that art
adds value to the quality of life no matter the economic climate.
Realistically, that's when most want to take care of the essentials."
Art brings life Arts boosters wish all projects inspired as many
warm and fuzzy feelings as the effort under way in Mt. Clemens.
Using a mix of mostly private funds, the Art
Center in Macomb County has decorated the redeveloped downtown with
sculptures of a tall glass tower, a 24-foot-high chair, oversized seats
emblazoned with slogans and a sculpture of a chubby old man playing
checkers with a girl. Another, $50,000 sculpture
will be unveiled this spring. Some of the pieces have arched eyebrows,
but most are cheering the additions. Trimpe, who made Apple of My Eye,
said residents are so attached to her sculpture they knit socks for the
characters. Trimpe also is sculpting a family for Roseville.
"People have recognized art brings life into
community and helps identify them," said Jo-Anne Wilkie, executive
director of the Art Center. "It's nice to have plowed streets,
interesting stores, businesses and cafes. But does that tell you what
the community is about? Art gives glimpses into the souls of the
community." With every success, though, there's a
Royal Oak. The trendy city hasn't bought a single piece since Star Dream
Fountain debuted in 1997. Crafted by the late
Marshall Fredericks of Birmingham -- one of Michigan's most renowned
sculptors and the creator of Spirit of Detroit -- the fountain is jeered
as tacky by critics and pornographic by conservatives.
David Coates / The
"County Seat," another Mt.
Clemens sculpture, is part of the city's five-year beautification
program, which has added four pieces of
distasteful," resident Thomas Springer said. "It's in poor taste,
especially in front of a library where children go. It belongs in
another city." For the first time since plans
crashed and burned in 1996 to build a massive roller coaster-type
structure along Woodward, Birmingham officials once again are talking
about using tax dollars for sculptures along the thoroughfare.
The statuary under consideration will be more
restrained than the failed Gateway Sculpture, said spokeswoman Patty
McCullough. She refused to say what -- if anything -- the city learned
from the controversy.
do? As one of the richest -- and
largest -- suburbs in southeast Michigan, Troy has precious little
public art. Besides the undisplayed Corporate Head, the city of 81,000
has two pieces, one of which was donated in the last few weeks by
Lebanese merchants. Stine, the mayor, acknowledged
she's slightly ashamed by the poor showing and said the city may soon
consider funding more art. Proudly tight-pocketed city officials met
with silence a similar suggestion by a committee three years ago.
Then there's Corporate Head.
British sculptor Michael Ayrton's creation depicts
two large heads divided by a mirror with several smaller heads inside
that's supposed to represent the inner workings and teams within teams
of large companies. Stine loves it and wants the
titanic testament to corporate brainpower in front of the library. Troy
spokeswoman Cindy Stewart acknowledges some find it overwhelming.
Pallotta just chuckles. "What can you say?" he
asked. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
David Coates / The
JoAnne Wilkie, executive
director of The Art Center in Mt. Clemens, poses next to "Apple of
My Eye." Metro Detroit communities are discovering that public art
is a cheap way to add soul to the