Frozen in time: Residents question sculpture plan

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By Arin McKenna

A lively debate on the county's Open Forum website prompted the Art in Public Places Board to table a plan to erect statues of Norris and Lois Bradbury at the Municipal Building until after receiving direction from the Los Alamos County council.

The Open Forum question was "Which Norris and Lois Bradbury sculpture should be recommended to the County Council for fabrication and installation at the new Los Alamos County Municipal Building?" Citizens were asked to select one of three designs.

But rather than voting on an artist, a number of citizens voiced criticism of the project itself, including some who said, "I'm against this, but if you must do it, my first choice is…"

Vice Chair Ken Nebel counted 36 respondents opposed to the project.

Some opposition was simply against the location of the statues. Some suggested the Bradbury Science Museum would be a more appropriate location.

Others opposed the Historical Sculptures Master Plan itself. The Bradbury statues are the second installment in a series of 18 sculptures, at an estimated cost of $1 million. The Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie R. Groves statues at Fuller Lodge were the first in the series. Council requested a plan for a series of historic sculptures after approving the Oppenheimer/Groves designs, and adopted the plan Feb. 16, 2010.

The committee's staff liaison, Libby Carlsten, estimates the APP fund currently has $700,000–$800,000 available. Meanwhile, some residents question the value of spending the majority of those funds on this project.

"I could never get $1 million of enjoyment out of bronze statues," one resident wrote.

Although the master plan suggests pursuing private funding to augment the project, none has been identified at this time. During public comment, Kyle Wheeler expressed support for the project if it were funded through other sources, despite concerns that it could make the town look like a "wax museum."

Others had similar concerns. "Our town is a living entity, not a museum," or "turning downtown and/or the municipal building into a shrine of life-sized historical figures is a major step in the wrong direction" and "the Oppenheimer/Groves statues are great, but that's enough history. The idea of planting 18 of those things around town is just too much."

Some objections were based on a misconception that APP funding puts an additional strain on the county's budget or could be used to balance shortfalls within that budget. The program is funded by a one percent tax on capital improvement projects and a half percent tax on road projects specifically targeted at Art in Public Places, and is not part of the general fund.

Several people suggested that APP art work–including that at the municipal building–should be "art that causes you to want to return to view or experience it again and again." Some believe the art should take the form of a splash pad (a fountain designed for water play), a Zen garden, art that uses science, an architectural fountain or "interactive art that we as a community could use and enjoy on an ongoing basis.”

Others voiced their desire to see a more contemporary expression of the community.

Another resident wrote, "The problem with historical statues is that while they might make a good photo op once, most people won't ever return to them. Honestly, historical statues won't draw visitors to our community.

"I would love to see art that not only represents our past, but who we are as a town now and into the future as leaders in science, technology, arts and not to mention the incredible natural resources we have with our trails, outdoor sports and majestic views. I think those things would not only draw visitors, but support the community who call this great town home."

Chris Chandler echoed that sentiment during public comment. "I would much prefer some eclectic collections in town, and to use the money on a diversity of art projects, not focused primarily on realistic or semi-realistic depictions of people who were wonderful and did a lot for the community. I just think it will be a little peculiar to have 18 human beings scattered around town."

In light of the discussion, APPB Chair Carolyn Bossert suggested that the board seek direction from council before proceeding. APPB's yearly report is scheduled for May 14, and Bossert said they should bring this matter before council at that time.

"None of us were here when this was approved, and my understanding is most of council is new as well," Bossert said. "So I think we've got a great opportunity to go back to council and lay it out, see where we are and move forward in a very positive way, so we're all on the same path. Because, honestly, we've got some great projects coming up and the only thing slowing us down at this point is just time."

Bossert noted some of the other projects the board is working on, such as art for the animal shelter and the White Rock Visitor Center (board member Steve Foltyn will present some options to the White Rock Master Plan Implementation Advisory Committee at 6 p.m., April 8 at the White Rock Town Hall.

A major project this year is deciding placement for art work from the county's collection within the new municipal building. The collection is currently being inventoried.

APPB will discuss recommendations for council on the Historical Statues Master Plan during its next meeting, at 5:30 p.m. April 25 in meeting room #3 at the Mesa Public Library.