Merriam will add a third art piece to its city landscape next year to support a public art initiative created four years ago to enhance its public spaces. The move was approved at the May 14 city council meeting by a tight 5-4 vote.
Mayor Ken Sissom broke the tie with his vote to approve a contract with Boulder, Colo.-based artist Joshua Wiener for the creation of the $95,000 sculpture.
“I saw no reason to vote against it because I respect the process,” Sissom said of the resident-led Public Art Committee’s proposal for the project. “They did all the work for the council, they got recommendations. It was not an easy process.”
“We are all about cars in Merriam,” said Councilwoman Christine Evans Hands, who also sits on the Public Art Committee and voted in favor of the project. “For me, it’s wanting to make our town a more liveable, friendly kind of place so that it is not all cars.”
The “Hmmm…” sculpture, which will be placed next to Waterfall Park along a walking trail, depicts a dolomite stone caterpillar, a cairn made of granite river boulders, and an aluminum butterfly. The caterpillar will measure 9-feet-high and the cairn and butterfly will measure 12-feet-high. It will also include ground lighting for night visibility.
Wiener says the sculpture, slated to be installed in spring 2018, adds an element of wonder to the area.
“To me, it was something that drew a sense of vitality, something vivacious that stirred curiosity and wonder,” Wiener says of his visit to the site earlier this year. “The piece is site-specific. The context drove the design.”
The public art program began in 2014 after residents proposed the idea as a way to improve public areas throughout Merriam, Assistant City Administrator Meredith Hauck said. The first art piece, “Still Time,” was installed in 2016 at the intersection of Johnson Drive and Merriam Drive and the second, “Planting the Seeds,” in 2017 at Merriam Marketplace. The program has a budget of $565,000 over five years, or around $113,000 each year and 0.2 percent of the overall budget, Hauck said.
The program’s committee — made up of nine Merriam residents including two city council members — reviewed 45 submissions from artists across the country. The list was narrowed down to three candidates before selecting Wiener.
“I think people have come to expect that cities try to do what they can to make their areas more pleasant,” Sissom said. “There isn’t a city around us that doesn’t spend money on public art. We were not. There was room for improvement.”
Some council members, including Councilman Scott Diebold, opted to vote against the project, citing concerns from residents about the design.
“I voted against this art project because the majority of feedback from my constituents was not in favor of it,” Diebold told The Star.
“When surveying a number of residents, park patrons, and downtown Merriam businesses, there was little enthusiasm for the actual piece selected,” Councilman David Neal said. “Reactions of people ranged from indifferent to dislike. When the cost was revealed, the indifferent respondents moved to the opposed camp.”
Residents like Sam Matier, who writes a city newsletter and attends every city council meeting, called the sculpture “ugly” and “a disappointment,” citing the need for more community input for projects that use tax dollars.
“The art committee had absolutely no concern for how the public would react and made no attempt to ask for public opinion even though the committee is playing monopoly with the public’s money,” Matier said of the council’s decision. “Committee members seemed to concentrate on their view of what art is supposed to do. My guess is that most people don’t understand and don’t care.”
The committee also proposed two additional sites for the remaining projects at the May 14 meeting. Project #4 would be near the entrance of Merriam City Hall and project #5 would be developed in coordination of the opening of the new community center.