Artists, students collaborate on planned Bluffs’ public art project
February 29th, 2012
Omaha, NE – A new public art project is planned for Council Bluffs. But this one is starting at the grassroots â€“ with hopes of revitalizing a community.
About a dozen students sat around a table with a couple local artists, poring over photographs of sculptures and various colorful creations. The photographs are the final step in a project theyâ€™ve been working on for six weeks at Kanesville Alternative School in Council Bluffs.
â€œI have the sun one, the big sun, and then I had the one with all the crazy, fun chairs,â€ said Tessa Sanders cheerfully. Sanders, 17, created a bright model sculpture of something that could, theoretically, be installed on school grounds: a place where kids could hang out during recess.
â€œI wanted it to be like the chill zone because for our lunch break, we have nowhere to go because we have off-campus lunch. So we have like nowhere to sit and stuff,â€ Sanders said. â€œSo thatâ€™s why this is also a bigger thing that makes me really excited because then we can have somewhere to hang out, so even for kids in the future, theyâ€™d like it too.â€
The project, called Building Bridges, is sponsored by the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. Itâ€™s an effort to reach out to the community and make public artwork a collaborative process.
Several public art projects have been installed in Council Bluffs in recent years, and some havenâ€™t gone over very well. Rochester, NY artist Albert Paleyâ€™s series of sculptures installed along a bridge over I-80 might ring a few bells. It was commissioned by the Iowa West Foundation, and went over, for some, like a ton ofâ€¦ twisted metal. For this project, two acclaimed local artists, Therman Statom and Deb Masuoka, are planning a new piece to be built in Council Bluffs this summer. And before they get started on the designs, theyâ€™ve been working with the students at Kanesville to develop their creations and ideas, and hear their input on what defines their community.
â€œTheyâ€™ve inspired me personally,â€ Statom said, â€œas an artist wanting to do public art work out here. Iâ€™m not sure what it is to be here. In many ways, this whole process is a way of learning about the regionâ€¦ and sort of getting grounded.â€
â€œI think some artists, they measure the space, they look at the sky, they look at the architecture,â€ he said. â€œAnd I think both me and Debbie are interested in the culture.â€
Statom added public art should inspire and artists shouldnâ€™t shy away from controversy. But installing a public work of art that reflects the voice of the cityâ€™s youth could make it feel closer to home.
For Heather Mauer, an art teacher at Kanesville, the process has gone beyond public art. â€œThey really helped the kids understand that they do make a difference and their voice can be heard,â€ she said. â€œAnd thatâ€™s huge. So many of them have no idea what that really can do.â€
Mauer said the students felt particularly strongly about creating works of art that could change the way their city and neighborhoods are perceived. â€œIn this particular area, I get to hear kids talk all the time about negative stereotypes of the area. And they want so much to change that,â€ she said. â€œAnd art is definitely a good stepping stone towards that, especially when they put their heart and soul into the designs shows how much they care.â€
â€œAnd then they talk about this might be some type of a legacy that they leave behind,â€ she said. â€œAnd just the fact that theyâ€™re thinking about leaving a legacy is saying something for this whole entire project itself.â€
The artists also worked with the students on another project â€“ just for them – a collection of metallic boards that will be pieced together and installed in their school. Outside, Tessa Sanders helped add a few final touches of spray paint to the collection. She said, for her, the project has made her want to stay in school. â€œI knew I could do it, but I didnâ€™t know how good I was actually at it,â€ she said, referring to her artwork. â€œI would try to find time. Iâ€™d get my work done quicker so I could come and work on my project. And when other kids would be like, hey, letâ€™s skip, you know. I was like, â€˜no dude, I gotta work on my project, so I gotta go to class,â€™â€ she said with a laugh.
â€œIt really did have a big impact, it really did,â€ she said. â€œIt kept me here, I know that.â€
The studentsâ€™ mural will be installed in Kanesville Alternative School soon, and the public art project should be completed by August.
Deb Masuoka said they donâ€™t have a location set yet, but they hope to keep it close to the school, and close to the neighborhood.
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