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.