Artist promises concept Columbia can embrace

Saturday, December 22, 2007 | 5:00 p.m. CST; updated 11:56 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — Sculptor Howard Meehan has about a month to come up with a new idea for the public art he wants to create for the plaza in front of the new city hall.

The first design Meehan proposed was rejected Tuesday by the Standing Committee on Public Art, a decision that was seconded by the Commission on Cultural Affairs.

Committee and commission member Chris Stevens said the artist’s idea was missing a certain something.

“Perhaps it was too simple for what we were looking for,” Stevens said.

Meehan had proposed a 30-foot stainless steel triangular spire with a circular opening near the top that would have allowed the sun to shine on historical markers surrounding the centerpiece of the plaza. It also would have included a time capsule. And Meehan had planned to use a lot of recycled materials.

Ken Greene, another member of the Commission on Cultural Affairs, had mixed feelings.

“I personally liked quite a few of the elements ... just not the central spire,” he said.

Both the standing committee and the commission reviewed more than 60 public comments about the proposal. Predictably, those comments were also mixed. Some referred to the design as “awesome” or “elegant,” while one reviewer said the spire looked like nothing more than a “metal splinter.”

Some committee and commission members wondered whether Meehan had simply tweaked previous proposals for public art in different cities to develop the design for the Columbia city hall project, despite the artist’s claim that the design was inspired by his visit to Columbia and conversations with residents.

Meehan conceded that he had offered a similar design for Glendale, Ariz., that was never commissioned. Visualizing something “polished and contemporary” for Columbia’s city hall, he thought the general idea of the spire would still be workable and could incorporate a sustainability concept befitting Columbia.

Meehan said he’s not completely sure what his next design might look like. He’s exploring three possible concepts: something symbolizing kinetic energy, a water feature or a more traditional symbol of city hall as a gateway.

“Any of those ideas could work well,” Stevens said, though he expressed some concern that a water feature could take away from the sustainability and low maintenance that everyone is looking for.

Stevens said that while the committee and commission members know it’s impossible to please everyone, they are looking for something that will reflect community values and stand as an icon.

“I do know when all is said and done, Columbia and the committee will be pleased,” said Stevens. “We are going to make Columbia proud.”

Meehan, who lives in New Mexico, said Thursday that he plans to present the committee with three different concepts within the next 30 days. He said the budget of $115,000 is no big concern.

“The question is finding something for the community to feel good about,” he said. ”If we could ratchet down the rhetoric and give me 30 days, I will give the people something they can embrace.”

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Sean Dobkins December 23, 2007 | 10:57 a.m.

Why are we not using our abundance of local artists for this project? I do not understand why we would commission a project like this from a man who lives in New Mexico and seems to be recycling ideas he has had rejected from other cities. The veritable cornucopia of talent there is to be had in our own community would provide an amazing range of ideas to pour in, from people who literally live and love Columbia! This spending of $115,000 seems like a waste, leaving the city when it could be used to help local artists and in turn local businesses. One hundred and fifteen thousand dollars may sound like a small amount to the Standing Committee on Public Art, but it sounds titanic to struggling locals.

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