Even though ArtPrize is over, the buzz it generated will echo until next year. At the same time, at least one of the competition’s 10 finalists just may find a permanent home next year and be solidly entrenched in the Grand River for viewing at any time.
“The Grand Dance,” a kinetic sculpture of 16 arms and icons designed by internationally renowned local photographer David Lubbers, is actually a prototype, and a handful of local businesses are working with Lubbers to see if they can make the piece dance with the wind permanently.
“Because it needed a Department of Environmental Quality permit that we didn’t get until about eight weeks before it was to be up, and because of the scope of it, we needed to make something that was a prototype instead of a permanent thing for the competition, and as a way of gauging whether there was interest or enthusiasm in the community for doing something like that,” said Steve Williams, a principal with Williams & Works, a civil engineering, planning and surveying firm that worked on the sculpture.
The enthusiasm was certainly evident as ArtPrize voters placed “The Grand Dance” in the top 10 of the more than 1,200 pieces that were entered in the inaugural competition.
“We were very happy with the response that we’ve gotten in that regard. So we’re now working toward the idea of putting something permanent in. It would be something that the city would have to accept, and we’ve gotten positive indications that they would do that,” said Williams. “But that would have to go through the political process, and there would have to be some sort of endowment for maintenance.”
ArtPrize is a hit politically with city commissioners. Prior to last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, a gathering that included all seven commissioners, Mayor George Heartwell introduced six city employees who entered pieces in the competition, and then called ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos — also on hand at the meeting — a “visionary.”
“The whole city has been a delight to work with by allowing people to do some crazy and interesting things,” said DeVos in response to the mayor’s introduction.
Finding funds for an endowment could be a bigger hurdle. Still, Owens Ames Kimball, Couturier Iron Works, Advanced Caster & Wheel Co., Dennen Steel Corp., Magnum Powder Coating Inc. and Linda Williams of the Michigan Epic Foundation are collaborating with Williams & Works on making Lubbers’ creation permanent.
Williams said the next version has to be about 40 feet tall — 10 feet taller than the prototype — so it can extend above the river’s highest flood stage. It will also have to be stouter to withstand winter’s winds and ice — and not just the ice pieces that float on the river’s surface, but also ice storms that could coat the structure and add a lot of weight to it.
“What we put out there was just off-the-shelf stuff. The pivots are chair casters, and those actually pulled apart in the high winds we had,” said Williams of the wind that accompanied the rain that fell last Tuesday.
The bearings that allow the sculpture’s icons to move with the wind are encased in the chair casters. But a permanent piece will need sealed steel bearings, which are strong enough to hold the icons to the arms during high winds and will need little maintenance.
Williams said the plan is to include all 16 arms and icons in the permanent sculpture. Adding 10 feet to it, however, could ultimately alter that number.
“Obviously, in making it taller, the people with an artistic sense — not me — would say if this number was right or not, and we’d go from there. The icons are made from aluminum sheets and they’d have to be made of something more like stainless steel,” he said.
How much it would cost to build, install and anchor a larger and longer-lasting piece hasn’t been calculated yet.
“We’re trying to figure out how to do the foundation for it right now, and that will probably dictate a lot of the cost. One of the ideas is to drill down into the bedrock there and put a very, very stout steel column in with an upstream edge to deflect ice, trees and whatever,” said Williams.
In addition to being an interesting design, what seemingly has attracted ArtPrize voters to “The Grand Dance” is that the sculpture displays changing combinations of colors at night. So how is that done?
Williams said lights were placed on the roof of the carousel at the Public Museum on the river’s west bank and on top of the Riverfront building on the other side of the river.
“West Michigan Lighting and John Hyatt Associates provided that. It’s basically a theater light that has an electronic color generator, which changes every so often. That’s another component that we’d like to continue with, but what’s there now is a temporary lighting setup and it will need to be made permanent,” he said.
Should the work go forward, the new sculpture could be built this winter and installed in the Grand River next spring.