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'Key to the City' sculpture approved by public art committee

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 | 11:36 p.m. CST; updated 3:48 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
A sketch of the approved 19-foot glass sculpture.

COLUMBIA — The city’s Cultural Affairs’ Standing Committee on Public Art wants art to be something to talk about.

Howard Meehan’s “Key to the City” sculpture, which was approved by the committee Monday, is predicted to be no exception.

“Some people will love it and some people will hate it,” committee member Paula Elias said. “The point of public art is to engender an opinion and most importantly, dialogue.”

“Key to the City,” a 19-foot glass structure shaped like a keyhole that residents can walk under in front of the renovated City Hall building, is Meehan’s second proposal. Meehan, an artist from New Mexico, gave his first proposal — a 30-foot stainless steel spire — in late November. The committee and the Commission of Cultural Affairs voted down that proposal, but the committee approved the “Key to the City” proposal with a few changes. The proposal now goes to the commission, which meets at 4:15 p.m. Monday in the Daniel Boone Building’s Mezzanine Conference Room.

The requested changes were to remove the freestanding key sculptures on the sides of the glass keyhole and to allow the committee to view the additional two-dimensional pieces that were to be incorporated inside the glass sculpture.

“He is the artist, and we are not going to tell him how to do the art,” Elias said. “He has assured us that he has done this type of work before.”

The city began taking artist applications in July 2007, and the committee chose Meehan by November. Meehan was then given 60 days to draw up a plan and present it.

Meehan visited Columbia to learn about the city. Elias said Meehan was “looking for the definite sense of who we are as a community.”

For the project, the committee was looking for something that incorporated pieces of Columbia history.

“This would make the sculpture more indicative of the community,” Elias said.

The committee and the public could not come to a consensus on Meehan’s spire proposal. Elias said even Meehan agreed he should come back with an art form that was not as abstract. He was then given 30 additional days to present a second idea.

The Commission on Cultural Affairs will address the structure Monday, and will then send the proposal will go to the City Council for final approval, said Marie Hunter, manager of the Office of Cultural Affairs. The cultural affairs commission usually follows the public art committee’s recommendations.

“There is a chance that (the Commission on Cultural Affairs) could reject it, but I don’t know,” Hunter said. “Both groups do their own work, but there is a relationship there.”

“City Council is looking for a recommendation so that they can act upon it, not a menu of ideas,” Hunter said.


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