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Art: Temporary Public Art in Fayetteville

By Erin Pesut 

            A giraffe on wheels? You may have noticed it. The long-legged corten steel man staring up at the sky? Perhaps you drove right by. If you’re curious about the public art sculptures downtown that cropped up last year after Hurricane Matthew, we’ve got the whole story. The latest news? These are going to forever change Fayetteville’s public art scene.


It is a Work in Progress

            Work in Progress is an 11-piece curated (meaning, chosen) and temporary public art exhibition downtown. This exhibit was specifically gifted to the community through private donors and matched with the Arts Council funding. Moving forward, the hope is for it to become an ongoing process and a creative collaboration with the City of Fayetteville.

            Deborah Martin Mintz, Executive Director of the Arts Council, says these sculptures offer Fayetteville residents “creative energy.” “It’s a statement about our community. It’s an opportunity to focus on something that inspires and provokes. Sometimes people are pre-disposed to think of our community in a certain way and that is as limiting as looking at an individual and thinking of them as ‘only this.’ Our community is whole and healthy and well. It’s creative. It’s exciting. And for 11 months, these works are the beginning of that statement.”

            The Arts Council’s advertising campaign “Fayetteville. Always On.” certainly holds true in this instance. Whether it is two a.m. or two p.m., these sculptures are, in fact, “always on.” Mary Kinney, Marketing Director of the Arts Council, says, “The idea that this art is accessible to everyone all of the time is brilliant.”

Creating the Project

            In this collaboration, the Arts Council worked alongside Jim Davis, owner of Sculpture in the Landscape based in Cary, North Carolina. Davis has over forty years experience in dealing with land design and aesthetics. His job was to match artists with the Arts Council and their artwork with the environment. Pieces were reviewed by the Arts Council’s Public Art Committee and, since each sculpture was installed on public property, the selections also went before the City of Fayetteville’s Public Art Commission.

            In placing the structures downtown, Mintz said pedestrian traffic and the context of the area were taken into consideration. “Like ‘Tall Trikaya’ obviously that corner of Green Street and Rowan had to have a very significant work of art. If you put the ‘Golden Leaves’ over there, it would have been a lost little thing.”

Say Hello

            Walking (or driving) down Hay Street you will certainly notice “Colorful,” Jonathan Bowling’s tail-in-the-wind, repurposed steel horse in front of the Arts Council Building. The sculpture, gifted by Dr. & Mrs. Patrick Callahan in celebration of their wedding anniversary, juggles perception of what is interior/exterior with positive/negative space. A roving eye detects bent bolts, bike gears, horseshoes and a rusty, red fire extinguisher.

            In front of City Hall, “Giraffe” is a sculpture Fayetteville City Council member Bobby Hurst mentioned during the Work in Progress ribbon cutting ceremony that he’s always tempted to climb when he walks into work—though he has to restrain himself since climbing, pulling or damaging is not allowed. This shiny-horned giraffe is a sister sculpture to “Colorful,” both by artist Jonathan Bowling. With repurposed steel, a chain for a tail, a train track for a rectangular-shaped body and hidden horseshoes, the similarity in Bowling’s style catches your eye.

            Aluminum poles that clack and mingle in the wind of slate-made “Windstone” by the Fayetteville Area Transportation & History Museum is similar to Phil Hathcock’s other work (in conjunction with Omar Llanos) on the corner of Ray and Hay Street: the more silent and still “Flight of Wings.”

            The playful shape of the bright yellow “Tall Trikaya” and the circular space of lines in “X’s” (bolted to the brick near the Market House) are both by Massachusetts-based Rob Lorenson.

            Finding the similarities in pattern, aesthetics and material is joyful. “So now look, our public became aware of what his style was,” Mintz said, pleased community members were picking up on the resemblances. 

            With sculptures this large, one can have an experience by simply driving by. A closer experience can be had by walking. Once sculptures have been identified, investigated and experienced, a new relationship is forged. Just like how identifying nature can root you to a region, naming the sculpture, experiencing it and living among it certainly forms a kinship. Has your own relationship to downtown changed since these sculptures graced our streets?

What is Public Art?

            So what is public art for anyway?

            Kinney suggests conversation. “We want people to learn through this 11-month campaign what public art is. What is it, how to interact with it. People ask, ‘Can I touch it? Do I just take a picture with it?’ The message to the community is to see how they then associate with it.” 

            One thing Kinney hears repeatedly is the ownership people feel of the temporary sculptures and the way they’ve quickly identified their favorite. Oh, I like the horse. I like the giraffe. I like the Venus Flytraps. Or, she mentions, the fact that some are more hidden and are slower to reveal themselves. “Fall Leaves,’ it’s part of the landscape, up on the brick wall. It doesn’t scream at you. If you’re walking by, you experience that one. If you’re driving by, it’s harder to see.”

            Eric Lindstrom, Chair of the Arts Council’s Public Art Committee, says of the project, “It’s an expression of who we are as a community. We spend money on and to have water, roads and tree trimmings, but how often do we get an opportunity to make people smile, to provoke them, to get them to think?” He noted that downtown surveys conducted have shown an overwhelming response to people wanting to see more public art in the future.

            Artist Charles Pilkey of “Tree of Good and Evil” located behind the Arts Council building believes public art can transform public space. “Public sculpture can entertain, surprise, enliven, create a communal identity and offer temporary escape from the tedium of existence. It can say something about what it means to be a human being living in today’s world.” His work of painted steel and bronze is a collection of gears, knobs, industrial tools, nuts, bolts and steampunk-like figurines.

            Pilkey says “Tree of Good and Evil” “is about the impact of technology on the biosphere. The same machines that provide us with a comfortable lifestyle are quietly dismantling the planet’s ecosystem. Climate change, sea level rise, species extinction, ocean acidification and a host of other environmental mishaps are the result of our ill-advised use of ‘dirty’ technologies. My task as an artist has been to make people aware of the magnitude of the problem. With understanding hopefully will come the political will to do something about it.”

            “Tree of Good and Evil” was donated by Mayon & Mackie Weeks. Mayon, who is an Arts Council board member, a member on the Arts Council’s Public Art Committee and who enthusiastically supports the efforts to increase the presence of visible art in our community, says that “Tree of Good and Evil” touches a particular nerve for him. “It’s an interesting and imaginative sculpture. The vast number of nuts, bolts, screws, chains, etc., coupled with the images of objects and people in pursuit, cause me to reflect on the many facets of lives we lead.”


Art in the Future

            These eleven works will be in place until the end of September. At that point, they will come down and new ones will be installed. This past year, Hurricane Matthew upstaged the installation process. In the future, the goal is to have a “grand and glorious” one- to two-day installation process so the community can get involved.

            Mintz attested the help from the City of Fayetteville and the Parks and Recreation Department has been phenomenal. Originally, the Arts Council worried after the hurricane they would need to delay their artistic efforts. “When we said, ‘Do you feel we can go ahead and move forward?’ the City and Parks and Recreation Department said, ‘Yes. Our community needs this right now. We need something to celebrate.’”

            To note, these public works of art are for sale. If a business or individual is interested in purchasing one or gifting it to the community, please contact the Arts Council.

            The Arts Council Board will soon present the Public Art Master Plan to the City of Fayetteville.   Mintz says, “Work in Progress is one aspect of what we believe will be a robust public art program for the community.” She notes, happily, “It’s the beginning.”

            If you would like to donate, get involved or showcase your own work through public art, please contact the Arts Council at (910) 323-1776 or email by e-mail at admin@theartscouncil.com.