APPLETON – The controversial big head sculpture on East College Avenue suffered a major blow Monday, as did Appleton’s reputation for being accepting of nontraditional public art.
The Municipal Services Committee voted 4-1 Monday to rescind the city’s approval of the placement of the sculpture in the public right of way along one of the gateways to downtown.
The Common Council will consider the committee’s recommendation on Jan. 22.
Artist Paul Bobrowitz’s sculpture, titled “The Collective,” is made from salvaged propane tanks that have been turned into faces and assembled to make a large head.
In September, the committee and council unanimously endorsed the location of the sculpture as part of Sculpture Valley’s third season of ACREofART, but after the piece was installed, critics asked the city to rescind its approval.
Detractors said the artwork is ugly, scary, creepy and incompatible with the surrounding historic homes, emphasizing that neither the city nor Sculpture Valley informed the neighborhood that the sculpture was coming.
City officials acknowledged the oversight and promised to implement a notification process for residents living within 100 feet of a proposed sculpture in the future.
“I feel like we dropped the ball on this one,” Alderwoman Patti Coenen said.
Committee members said neighbors should have had a voice in the placement of the sculpture and that those opinions might have influenced their votes in September.
The committee’s recommendation instructs city officials to work with Sculpture Valley to find a new Appleton location for “The Collective” in the first quarter of the year.
No decision was made on who would be responsible for the relocation costs.
Alex Schultz, executive director of Sculpture Valley, said the nonprofit arts advocacy group doesn’t have money set aside for relocation.
Schultz said if the council rescinds its approval of “The Collective,” he probably wouldn’t consider the East College Avenue site for any other artwork. He also said Sculpture Valley likely would look elsewhere — maybe Neenah or Menasha — to find a new home for “The Collective.”
“It’s a little challenging to accept the way this went at committee,” Schultz said afterward. “If someone in the neighborhood says I want this piece on my property, I’d say go for it.”
Proponents of public art cautioned the committee against setting a precedent on who can dictate what is acceptable art for public consumption. Not all art needs to be safe, shiny and bright, they said.
“I’m concerned that we are about to give a couple of families that are well-connected and well-heeled veto power over what we all get to see,” Rob Neilson of Appleton said. “I would hate to see that happen to this city.”
More than a few people have defended “The Collective” as delightful, interesting and thought-provoking.
Lesley McKee of Appleton lives near the sculpture. She told the committee that it draws attention and spurs conversations. “I think it enriches the community,” she said. “I like having it there very much.”
Sculptures chosen for ACREofART are funded by sponsors and typically are not a burden on taxpayers. The pieces normally stay in place for two years and are made available for purchase after that. The asking price for “The Collective” is $20,000.
The free smartphone app Otocast describes all of the ACREofART sculptures in the Fox Cities. It identifies the title, artist, sponsor and location of each piece and provides a statement by the artist.
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