Sculpture coming to Columbia City Hall next week

Monday, May 3, 2010 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 11:03 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 18, 2010
The front view of the proposed “Keys to the City” features a 16- to 19-foot “keyhole” structure made of 2-inch square steel framing and 3/8-inch laminated glass. To make it more visible at night, lighting will be stubbed in the sculpture.

COLUMBIA — New Mexico artist Howard Meehan will arrive in Columbia next week to install his sculpture, "Keys to the City," as the centerpiece of the plaza beside the new City Hall.

The finished piece will be 16 feet wide and 19 feet tall. Its base, complete with wiring to power lights that will illuminate it from within, already is in place.

Two concrete bases stand about 2 feet above a section of blue pavement at the center of the plaza, which also will include landscaping and extensive brickwork. Crews have only begun to install the brick, but cement for the plaza has been poured.

A sketch of Meehan’s design for the sculpture can be seen here. A city committee chose him as the artist for the project more than two years ago. The sculpture will be financed by the city’s Percent for Art Program, which allows for 1 percent of the cost of major city construction projects to be spent on art for the sites.

The total budget for City Hall art is $212,752, and Meehan stands to receive $115,000 of that through the Percent for Art program, according to a previous Missourian report. Although Meehan is to be paid a total of $200,000, $85,000 was to come from private donations.

Meehan is scheduled to begin installing “Keys to the City” on May 11. It will arrive in two pieces, he said, and he anticipates installation will be done within three days, or by May 14, weather permitting.

Meehan worked on the sculpture for two years and said he is excited about finally putting it in place. He hopes that the keys will serve as "an anchor to the city" and give people a sense of empowerment as they approach City Hall.

The sculpture will be made of 2-inch square steel framing and three-eighth-inch laminated glass.

Meanwhile, the city is moving forward with two more art projects downtown.

In February, the Columbia City Council signed a contract with Stuart Keeler to design a sculpture for the new parking garage under construction at Fifth and Walnut streets. That project also will be financed by the Percent for Art program. Keeler will have a budget of up to $110,000 for his work.

Keeler, a native of Canada, has a master of fine arts degree in sculptural practices from the Art Institute of Chicago, according to a report to the council from the Office of Cultural Affairs. His contract states that he has 60 days after the contract is initiated to present a detailed proposal that outlines the project to scale, the materials he’ll need and a detailed budget.

Keeler has had little to say thus far about his plans for art at the garage; he says it is still in the research and design stage. If his proposal is approved after a public hearing, he’ll be free to begin work on the project, but no timetable has been set.

Keeler and his partner, Michael Machnic, have a website featuring images of some of their work and explaining their perspective on public art.

“As our cities have emerged into the new millennium, so should the design ideals which create an exciting built environment,” a profile of the artists on their website reads. “It is our goal as artists working in the public realm to engage the users of the space into conversation about the site with its current ideals as well as its function over a period of time.”

Finally, the council voted Monday night on an agreement to hire Columbia artist Kate Gray to paint the traffic box at Tenth Street and Broadway. This is the third such project in the city’s Traffic Box Art program.

The Office of Cultural Affairs initiated the traffic box program in 2007 after brainstorming with the Police Department about how to combat graffiti.

Traffic boxes, the relatively large metal boxes found at several downtown intersections, are prime targets for graffiti, but the strategy has been a resounding success so far, according to a report to the council from Office of Cultural Affairs Manager Marie Nau Hunter.

Graffiti artists haven’t touched the two traffic boxes dressed up by artists thus far. David Spear painted one at Broadway and Ninth Street in 2007; Dennis Murphy painted another at Broadway and Hitt Street in 2009.

Gray is a graphic design teacher at Stephens College and used to work at MU as an assistant director of publications, according to Hunter’s report. She also has owned a design firm.

Gray can begin working on the design of the box immediately but must finish before Oct. 1. Gray will receive $1,500, plus up to $500 to buy materials.

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Toni Messina May 4, 2010 | 9:19 a.m.

I can see this starting to take shape outside my window at City Hall. The site is transforming from gravel and dust to orderly paving...some "bare" concrete and some inlaid with glass pebbles. Red brick "pavers" are starting to show at 8th and Broadway. It will be great for pedestrians to get sidewalks back, too. This is great weather for an installation! (9:18 a.m.)

(Report Comment)
Toni Messina May 5, 2010 | 10:03 a.m.

Day 2 of my observations...workers are completing the bricked, curved area at the 8th and Broadway intersection - I see three brick sections, and two of them hook up with walkways that cross 8th and Broadway - similar, compatible brickwork - I believe this is part of the "streetscape" where the design is intended to help us see connections, rather than isolated curbs, sidewalks, plazas, plants, etc. - still alot of work to do, though

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Toni Messina May 7, 2010 | 10:17 a.m.

Hey...Day 3 was occupied by other tasks, so here's a Day 4 report - workers are starting to lay tannish-yellowish bricks that radiate between City Hall and the curb, resulting in an interesting grid through the plaza - I can see someone surveying and someone shooting pix...they look like they're associated with the project - there are a couple of grates installed for "street trees," and I think more are coming - on the other side of the building, folks are working on restoring 8th street and the sidewalk - lots of activity, machines, heavy lifting - I'm excited about starting to see the actual artwork installed

(Report Comment)
Toni Messina May 12, 2010 | 3:43 p.m.

Days 5 and 6 saw more paving and prep work, as well as rain. Today, however, is a totally different experience. Artist Howard Mehan is here supvervising installation. The steel superstructure is in place...definitely in the shape of a keyhole - glass panes will be added, weather permitting - workers are also planting trees, and continuing the decorative paving - a lot of visible change in a very short time, right outside my window!

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