Columbia residents hold mixed reactions to completed 'Key to the City'

Friday, May 21, 2010 | 5:49 p.m. CDT; updated 8:10 a.m. CDT, Saturday, May 22, 2010
Julia Ames, left, and two of her friends leave City Hall after waiting for the artwork's lights to turn on May 20.

COLUMBIA — The “Key to the City” sculpture on the plaza of the new Columbia City Hall has unlocked a wide range of opinions.

The sculpture is 16 feet wide and 19 feet tall. The keyhole structure is a steel frame with laminated glass. The structure showcases photographs of Columbia, as well as quotations and text that reflect the community.

Artist Howard Meehan completed the artwork’s installation last Saturday, and city residents have wasted no time forming some opinions about it. Downtown visitors have mixed reactions to the keyhole-shaped artwork.

Paula Elias, a member of the city’s Cultural Affair’s Standing Committee on Public Art, spoke about the project in a previous Missourian article.

“Some people will love it, and some people will hate it," Elias said in March 2008. "The point of public art is to engender an opinion and most importantly, dialogue."

And dialogue has ensued:

  • Arnie Fagan, owner of Cool Stuff and ARG Commercial Real Estate, said the art spruces up the neighborhood. He said the nature of public art is that people love to complain, but he has heard less complaining about this particular creation.
  • Shane Shivers, a recent Hickman High School graduate, said he hardly noticed the sculpture until it was pointed out to him.
    "I like the way it's structured,” he said. “It's a pretty nice introduction to Columbia if you're out of town and not familiar with the area."
  • "It's pretty original. I’ve never seen anything like it before," Adam Hendin, co-owner of Hot Box Cookies, said. "I'm more of a fan of sculptures in general. I'd rather have something like that than a flat piece of land or just a fountain."
  • Opal Chapman, another Columbia resident, said she didn't know why the sculpture was there. She said it is pointless.
  • "It's too modern for me," Anna McCaulley, 22, said. "I think it's kind of cheesy."
  • Jean Borne, McCaulley's mother visiting from Colorado, said she thinks the art would look better if it was only metal and did not have the photographs.
  • Wendy Sites, on the other hand, enjoys this aspect of the art. "I really like the pictures," she said. "I think they were chosen wisely."

Meehan worked on the project for more than two years. He said he is very happy with his completed artwork and hopes the city will be, too.

Meehan said the art is symbolic and prominent. He said people may one day identify City Hall by his creation.

"It's iconic," Meehan said.

Meehan said he could not wait to see the finished creation at night when LED lights illuminate the area in front of City Hall.

Julia Ames said she saw the lit up sculpture a few nights ago and liked it. When she brought two of her friends to City Hall Thursday night to see the artwork lit up, the plaza was dark.

Marie Hunter, manager at the Office of Cultural Affairs, said the artwork is supposed to light up automatically at sunset but since it has only been a week since the artwork’s installation they are still “fine-tuning."

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