HYANNIS – Public art highlighting the region’s bond with the sea is coming to two towns on Cape Cod.
“We artists on Cape Cod have an unwavering need to share our love for this special place,” said Orleans potter Steve Kemp, who, through a Creative Placemaking competition will construct a sculpture called “Tides” in the heart of the arts district of Hyannis.
Kemp and Sydney Ahlstrom, an Orleans sculpture who specializes in metal works, were awarded commissions made possible by a unique partnership.
The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce is working with state arts officials and local cultural districts to invest in the idea that art plays a big part in what makes Cape Cod a desirable place to visit.
That is what is behind the public art installations in Hyannis and Orleans that have been in the works since last year.
“The idea is to use ‘creative placemaking’ to make the sites more inviting, exciting, engaging for the people who walk through them,” Clare O’Connor, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Director of Economic Initiatives, said. “That’s really what ‘creative placemaking’ is. It’s to connect the sense of art being a part of the place and being something that excites you.”
Chamber officials hope that the excitement generated can also generate revenue. Art can equal money, not just by drawing tourists but also by encouraging visitors and locals to support arts in the community, according to O’Connor.
On April 3, the chamber began a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign to help pay for the installations of the two sculptures.
Kemp’s sculpture for Hyannis is an eight-foot-tall stoneware clay monolith featuring the texture of rippling tidal flats. Plans are to install it at the the intersection of Pearl Street and South Street in Hyannis.
For Orleans, Ahlstrom is creating an eight-foot-long steel diving humpback whale placed atop a one-ton fieldstone. The site is a tiny triangle of grass off Theresa’s Way at Cove Road in downtown Orleans.
Grant Money Starts The Project
The Cape Cod Chamber received a grant to start the process of highlighting the Cape’s cultural districts by placing creative work—creative placemaking, if you will—as a central element in the region’s cultural districts.
Cape Cod has four state-designated cultural districts. The districts, which must be walkable and have a variety of cultural offerings, are centrally located in the town of Sandwich, the villages of Barnstable Village and Hyannis, and the town of Orleans.
The creative placemaking grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Adams Arts Program is for $37,000 per year and, O’Connor said, the chamber is matching the grant and will also be raising money to put the objects in place.
O’Connor said the grant is part of the chamber’s push to support artists and the Cape’s creative economy.
“The whole purpose of this grant and the other work that we’ve done with artists has been to support the economic well-being of our creative sector, because we think they are so important to the region, not only because they add a voice that we want in deciding what our area looks like, in protecting the environment and keeping the area beautiful,” O’Connor said.
That the region’s artists can boost the Cape’s economy is a key reason the chamber is putting grant money and support behind the creative economy.
To begin the project of finding public art installations for the cultural districts, a call went out to the Cape’s artistic community for ideas.
Artists were asked to submit ideas with an estimate of cost with a cap at $15,000.
And while creative placemaking is not limited to sculpture, that is what was submitted by the Cape Cod artists and architects who responded to the request for proposals.
Having chosen pieces for two of the three cultural districts, the chamber is now beginning a crowd-sourcing campaign to raise the rest of the money.
The first round of creative placemaking was to choose public art installations for Hyannis, Orleans and Sandwich.
The Sandwich project is on hold for now, awaiting an art project that generates consensus. O’Connor said, “After reviewing what would work best at the site and the proposed installations, it was jointly decided that Sandwich would delay their creative placemaking participation and continue to work on alternative designs and concepts.”
Deciding which pieces of art would be installed was a multi-tiered process that included a social media polling campaign organized by the chamber.
Nineteen artists responded to the original request for proposals and presentations were made at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis in the spring of 2014, O’Connor said.
A panel narrowed down the 19 to two or three finalists for each site.
Narrowing the finalists for each town down to one final pick was the job of a judge’s panel comprised of an artist Lew French, who is a stone artist from Martha’s Vineyard; and two architects, Mary-Ann Agresti of Hyannis and David Silverman of Boston, along with two representatives from each town.
The session where that decision was debated took place in mid-November in the board room at the Bank of Cape Cod on Route 132 in Hyannis.
The jury selection was a chance to discuss not only the artworks proposed, but how they fit into the site and details of construction and price.
French began the final pick discussion with some thoughts about who should be chosen to create public artworks: artists or architects. Submissions came from both categories.
When the idea of public art installations first came up, French recalled, “it was an artist thing.”
He said in choosing between proposals, if everything else is equal, “I defer to the person’s background. I’d go to the person who is actually making a living creating this. I have a lot of friends who are artists. It’s a struggle,” French said.
O’Connor said French’s point was well-taken. “This work we’ve been doing is all about supporting a creative economy,” she said.
But Agresti and Silverman, both architects themselves, disagreed with French. Agresti said the decision should be based on the proposal and the site.
The spot in Orleans designated for the public art is an eight-foot-by-seven-foot triangle beside a brick path called Theresa’s Way, off Cove Road in downtown Orleans.
The two finalists for the site were Ahlstrom’s whale or a whimsical spirally sun, moon and stars weathered steel sculpture, proposed by another Orleans artist, Richard Morongell.
Agresti said Morongell’s piece reminded her of a street light and she said such sculptures could perhaps be used for a number of lighting fixtures in town. “Several towns could benefit from a little frolic on their main streets,” she said.
The panel liked both works, as did the town officials.
Consideration was also given to online poll numbers.
More than 2,200 people were reached in the Facebook poll and almost 300 people voted, with Ahlstrom’s whale receiving more than two-thirds of the votes.
At the jury selection, Joanna Keeley, a member of the Orleans Cultural Council, and Meri Hartford of Artworks were representing the town of Orleans for the final pick. While they too preferred the whale sculpture for the site, they said they also liked the Morongell piece and they had an idea of another place in town where it could be installed.
“That’s wonderful,” O’Connor said.
Ahlstrom said he was pleased to be chosen through a process that was new to him. He said he usually does not apply to competitions. “I’m not used to applying for these kinds of grants. It doesn’t suit me as a human being. I’m not organized with paperwork and I don’t like talking to people,” he said.
But he said his wife encouraged him to apply for the project.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity,” he said.
Ahlstrom said the chamber’s original concept of economic development through the artistic community is on target. “Public art encourages people to think of buying art,” he said.
Ahlstrom said many artists struggle and Cape Cod artists are no different. “We live on a very modest income,” he said. “It’s very hard to make a living as an artist on Cape Cod.”
Ahlstrom said he had been coming to Orleans in the summers since he was a child and moved to town almost 20 years ago, happening upon a rare affordable property where he lives with his family and has his workshop.
The Hyannis site is at the corner of Pearl Street and South Street in the heart of what is called the HyArts District. It is steps from the town-owned Pearl Street artist studios and the Guyer Barn, which is an art center.
Besides Kemp, there were two other finalists for the commission.
Rajie Cook, a graphic designer, partnered with Benton Jones of Millstone Gallery in Brewster in a proposal of a giant metal “H,” signifying Hyannis. In their artist statement, they envisioned people using the giant letter as a meeting place.
The font, Agresti said, reminded her of railroad ties turned into typography, an appropriate font to signify the nearby railroad station. “I thought he was intentionally linking transportation with the project,” she said.
Sarah J. Porter, a Yarmouthport architect, proposed an abstract sail-like shape made of corten steel.
Kemp originally proposed a trio of stoneware monoliths with a wave-like texture that is an actual cast of beach sand after the tide has receded.
Kemp explained his technique. “I waited until the tide went out and poured liquid plaster over the rippled sand patterns. Once the plaster molds hardened, I brought them back to my studio where I pressed stoneware clay into them, creating a rippling clay piece that exactly matches the patterns I found at low tide. I then use these clay slabs to make bold geometric shapes, creating monumental sculptures out of them.”
The online voting put the giant “H” sculpture on top, but in discussions with the judges panel, Kemp’s piece was the final winner. Agresti called the Kemp piece, with its tactile qualities “very Cape Cod.”
Kemp said that upon learning that his piece was chosen, he felt “humble and excited.”
He said he believes public art projects are important to an area.
“On Cape Cod, it’s really important to communicate how special this place is,” he said.
Kemp first came to the Cape almost 40 years ago after college and found work on a cranberry bog where he fell in love with the special Cape light. He apprenticed under renowned Dennis potter Harry Holl of Scargo Pottery before becoming a potter himself.
Steve Kemp’s studio and shop, Kemp Pottery, is located at 9 Cranberry Highway in Orleans, just off the Orleans Rotary.
The Sandwich project was also discussed at the jury selection, though it was later put on hold. The Sandwich cultural district is called the Glasstown district and both finalists were inspired by glass in their proposals for a public art installation at Mill Creek Park near the Sandwich Glass Museum.
Falmouth artist John Cira proposed a sculpture depicting an over-sized antique crystal finial laying on its side, like an archeological find from a lost civilization of giants.
Cira had originally proposed a sculpture designed to look like half a glass cup plate, with the illusion that the other half is buried beneath the earth.
Cup plates made of glass are a popular collectible.
Cira stated in his final proposal that he later changed his mind about the cup plate idea because he was concerned the half-plates would appear to be tombstones from afar.
But Sandwich officials had been enthusiastic about the cup plate design.
At the November session, Sandwich Library Director Joanne Lamothe and Sandwich Glass Museum Executive Director represented the town.
Lamothe said there were two important qualities that the Sandwich installation needed: to be made of glass and to be illuminated.
Lamothe said they had liked Cira’s original idea of the cup plates. “We’re frustrated. We love the design. We sold the design to the public,” she said.
Because the site for the installation is centrally located in the historic village, she said, “It has to be mainstream enough that people don’t balk and say, ‘this is so out of place.’”
After the judging session, O’Connor and Agresti met with Cira to ask if he would return to the cup plate idea. Cira agreed, and said he was excited to move on with the project.
But by then Sandwich town officials were concerned about the method of fabricating the piece and opted to hold off on the public art installation for the present time.
There was an also an issue of cost, because Cira had envisioned multiple cup plates and there was only funding available for one.
Cira expressed some frustration in the way the project was put on hold, since he said a considerable amount of his time was put into his final presentation.
But he said the chamber’s idea of supporting public art is good. “Of course it’s difficult for artists everywhere, not just on Cape Cod,” he said. To make a living, he said, “they teach or make works more accessible to the general public.”
Making a living on Cape Cod with its seasonal economy is challenging.
“I can’t speak for all artists but when I make money with my art, it’s an occasion for celebration,” he said.
A show of John Cira’s work opened this week at Highfield Hall and Gardens in Falmouth. The show runs to May 6.
The other finalist for the Sandwich public art commission was, again, Orleans artist Steve Kemp, who proposed a sort of New Age millstone made of panels of stoneware clay with a rippled sand pattern that bring to mind stained glass. Glass would be used at the joints. Kemp’s piece, with a texture inspired by the tidal flats of Cape Cod Bay, was to be made of stoneware clay, steel and granite. At the base, two Sandwich glass-style dolphins would be holding up the millstone.
With public art installations moving forward in Hyannis and Orleans, people who voted in the online poll and others who are only now learning about the projects, can support the artwork through a crowdsourcing online campaign.
Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross said crowdsourcing will help with the financing will give the public a sense of ownership over the artwork.
“These distinct pieces of public sculpture will allow residents and visitors an opportunity to engage with the Cultural Districts in new ways. The goal of our creative placemaking initiative is to enhance the ‘sense of place’ one feels while experiencing each unique area.”
Beginning Friday, April 3, the public is invited to visit www.razoo.com/story/Orleans and www.razoo.com/story/Hyannis to contribute toward the installation of the sculptures.
Donations made in certain increments will be rewarded with perks, like stickers and notecards featuring the sculptures and fine art prints donated from galleries.
As for the installations of the sculptors, artists Kemp and Ahlstrom have been working toward a May completion date. The works are expected to be in place by late May or early June, O’Connor said.
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— Laura M. Reckford