Art for Our Place

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It’s almost caused three accidents on 29 North, but it’s a reason one Monticello director took her job. It’s been the most loved and the most hated item on the Charlottesville city budget. It’s large; it changes annually; it’s a have-you-seen-that-? topic of conversation around the water cooler; and it doesn’t cost current taxpayers a dime. It’s Art in Place, the homegrown program that puts up monumental sculptures in well-traveled parts of town to surprise and delight (but not distract) Charlottesville drivers. 

 
That harried guy with the briefcase in the median strip on the Route 250 bypass, and the sunbathing lady at the intersection of Market and High that some prankster kept adorning with tennis balls (now that’s community involvement in the arts)? They’re Art in Place work. The biker on the grass strip where Nelson Avenue feeds into McIntire Road? That’s an old Art in Place work the city now owns. In fact by November 5 there will be nine new Art in Place sculptures up around town, replacing last year’s show, and there are eight different Art in Place sculptures on permanent display because they’ve been purchased by or donated to the city. 
 
The soapstone sculpture “Family” on Court Square in downtown C-ville is not an Art in Place piece; it’s by the late David Breeden of Biscuit Run Studios just south of town. His wife Elizabeth helped him display and sell his work, and it was Elizabeth, along with a couple of friends, Blake and Charlie Hurt, who dreamed up Art in Place in 2001 as an instrument with which to “make art accessible to the general public” and provide it “with a wide range of artistic styles, themes and media which enhance our concepts of space and place and enliven our sense that art has the power to move us.”
 
“We all shook hands that we were not into raising money, that we wanted this to go as inexpensively as possible,” Breeden remembers. “Satyendra Huja was also a part of our original board; he was development director and how to go through the city processes would have been a lot more work. He would say here’s the city process, here’s what you have to do, and he was a big fan of having art on the streets of Charlottesville.” 
Breeden and company drew on funds from the city’s no longer operational Percent for Art program. As Huja explains, it was money “from the city’s capital budget . . . publically funded by the city of Charlottesville. One percent of certain projects was set aside for public art.” With that money they put up six sculptures, including two now permanent works, Rod Marshall-Roth’s Metallice Glosserous at Harris and Preston, and Richard Whitehall’s The Biker.
 
“We were hated the first four years,” Breeden says with a twinkle. “People thought we were the dinkiest, dumbest idea they’d ever seen, to put up art that wasn’t necessarily nationally acknowledged as good. But then they got it—you didn’t have to live with it, it went away again. You didn’t need to take it seriously, or you could take it seriously, but it was your option. We had emails about children’s car seats moved from one side of the car to another for the ride in and out because they would miss their favorite piece if they were on the wrong side. That got us through city council for our second funding appeal.
“I’ve talked to a new executive at Monticello, who drove into town and looked at this work and said ‘I want to live in a town that likes public art.’ I’ve had people choosing to retire here look at this and say, ‘a town brave enough to put up sculpture and take it down.’”
 
102 Pieces And Growing
Drawing on the still extant Percent for Art fund, Breeden’s once controversial, non-profit Art in Place has put on display 102 sometimes perplexing, sometimes bemusing, quite often enchanting works of art. Each piece goes up in an area of high vehicular traffic and stays there for 11 months.
 
The process of choosing new sculptures starts with an annual call for submissions in Sculpture magazine and a couple of online discussion groups for artists, and nets an average of 40 applications from all over the country. Each submission is examined by a nine-member jury including an artist, a gallery owner, and a professor. Once a work is accepted, artists arrange and pay for delivery, and Breeden and her crew supervise its installation. New Art in Place pieces have begun popping up around town, and by November 5 all eight will be on view. 
 
Jim Paulsen’s welded steel and painted wood “Sentinel Magic” will stand guard at Emmett Street at Barracks Road, across from the city’s first shopping center. (The Route 29 location where gawking drivers nearly caused accidents is no longer in use). “The Sentinel is a metaphor for a protective icon, a guardian or perhaps a shaman,” Paulsen says. “It is a very primal figure with strongly contrasting colors and angular geometric elements. It is meant to exude a sense of power and intensity, as well as ritual and mystery.”
 
Carl Billingsley’s elegant “Convergence,” constructed of oiled steel, will stand outside of the old Monticello Dairy building on Preston Avenue opposite the SPCA. It’s just east of Whirled Peace, a city-owned Art in Place work, near the entrance to Grady Avenue with its early 20th century single family homes in Georgia Revival and Colonial Revival style. 
 
Jim Respess’s fanciful “Shugoweh 1,” constructed of cloth, Styrofoam, metal, acrylic, concrete, will grace Preston Avenue at Rose Hill Drive. The Rose Hill Drive neighborhood to the north, one of the oldest in the city, is full of small to medium single-family homes. A phonetic rendering of “shoo, go away,” this piece takes its name from a game Respess plays with his young grandkids, “the lights of my life right now.” A Charlottesville native, Respess keeps a studio at McGuffey and teaches at Mary Baldwin College and Averett University. 
 
Mary Ruden’s stainless steel, steel and aluminum “Metamorphosis,” created in collaboration with welder and metallurgist Robert Benfield, will stand just further west on Preston in Washington Park. Ruden’s piece “is all about the shadows of the butterfly,” Breeden says. Ruden chose the name because “it represents a life cycle, change, and new life. This is a common theme in my artwork. It is slightly kinetic, as it moves gently in the wind.”
 
Charlie Brouwer’s wooden “He Always Carried It With Him,” will stand at Eliot and Burnet, just west of Oakwood Cemetery, and not far from Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church to the south and Play On! Theater to the north. Brouwer says the idea for the piece came from “our connection with nature—and how our existence is dependent upon it. This guy,” who is carrying a giant leaf, “realizes that whatever he does, wherever he goes, he is supported by the natural world, and he has an impact on it.”
 
Andy Denton’s “Love Arch” is made of stainless steel and painted cast aluminum. It will stand at the foot of the hill that is the intersection of Market and High streets, where Market runs by the Central Library, skirting the Downtown Mall, and High goes past one of the city’s most lovely and luxurious residential areas. “These two people are, in a sense, standing upon each other,” Denton says. “They are each other’s supports in the topsy-turvy world. The swirling waves that move over their skin represent their energy and it is their connection to the natural world. The arch is made up of their mutual affection and reliance for each other.”
 
Hannah Jubran’s stainless steel and bronze “Cloud” will be on display in Schenk’s Branch Greenway alongside McIntire Road. A world-renowned sculptor, Jubran is Israeli, Breeden notes, “so he talks a lot about walls and boundaries and what walls do. There is a lot of imagery you don’t get till you’re up close to it.”
 
Antoinette Prien Schultze’s granite and glass “Cultured Stone” will stand along the Fifth Street-Ridge Avenue corridor connecting downtown Charlottesville with developments south of town. A historically African-American community, Ridge Street’s stately Victorian houses date to the late 19th century. 
 
“The source of my art is the human being in concept or/and in form,” writes Schultze, a well-known New England sculptor. “I marry materials, color, and light to create a place and space for light to effect a spiritual washing and insight into the sensual nature of existence. I strive to create sculptures that are beautiful and meaningful.”
 
Adam Walls’s painted steel “The Ball and the Red Staircase” will be visible from afar off in both directions on the Route 250 bypass that cuts through town on a curving northwest/southeast axis. “I wanted the viewer to share my feelings about goals and achievements that I want for myself and how impossible it seems to attain certain goals,” Walls writes. “Atop this impossible staircase is a stainless steel sphere that reflects the viewer. It is my hope that the viewer can look into this sphere and see themselves at the top of that unreachable goal.”
 
Art From A Car
After ten years of annual outdoor sculpture shows, spotting new Art in Place work is an autumn routine: if the leaves are changing colors, the sculptures must be too. But those first few seasons, the skeptics were everywhere—even on the jury. 
 
“Bill Bennett, the UVA art professor was on our jury one year,” Breeden remembers, “and he did the whole jury process, and then he got up as he was ready to leave and turned around and said, ‘You know, I’ve gotta say this. I looked at your program when it first came, and I thought, art from a car, that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard; you know it’s just not honorable. But now that I’ve lived with it for four years, I realize that it’s so American, it’s so cool. Of course art from a car. We’re too busy to go to a museum but if it’s art from a car, we’ll do it.’” 
 
Connoisseurs that we are around here, some of us will even get out of the car, like the joker with the tennis balls, and the lady at a newcomer’s luncheon who told Breeden she was dressing the polar bear on Schenk’s Branch Greenway, “Looking for Ice.” “I think people are enjoying it,” Breeden says philosophically. “I can be in a bunch of artists talking about people messing with art and more than half of them get mad and the others think it’s love. It’s engagement.”
 
It’s unlikely the mayor is the mysterious messer—but he is a fan. “The City spends a tiny amount of money each year on Art in Place, but the program makes a big impact,” Mayor Dave Norris says. “I firmly believe that public art enriches and enlivens a community. And I have to say, I’m glad that elected officials like me play no role in choosing which pieces get picked. I love the fact that I don’t know what’s going up until everyone else in Charlottesville knows. Every year there are pieces that I love and pieces that I could do without. That’s the beauty of the program. It evokes a diverse range of impressions from a diverse range of viewers. That’s the beauty of art.” 
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