Melissa Merli: Group seeking sculpture sponsors

Melissa Merli: Group seeking sculpture sponsors

The Public Art League has introduced a new "class" of 12 public sculptures it hopes to install in Champaign-Urbana.

But first sponsors must come forward to ante up $2,000 to lease a piece for two years. So far, four of the sculptures in the new class have been spoken for.

League President David Wilcoxen told people who gathered at the "unveiling" Wednesday evening at Big Grove Tavern in downtown Champaign that the new class represents an interesting mix of thought, feeling and emotion.

But tangibly, no stone. The dozen sculptures were made of metal, wood, steel and even LED lights. But no stone.

An advisory jury panel selected the dozen from 55 entries from 11 states and two countries — China and Austria, prompting Wilcoxen to say Champaign is getting on the map for public sculptures.

You can credit the Public Art League for that. Since it formed in 2010, the group quickly found sponsors for and installed 31 sculptures in C-U; 28 remain.

Each sculpture is here for two years. Those not purchased for permanent placement are rotated out and returned to the artists. In some cases, the league can arrange to have the pieces stay a bit longer.

The sculptures from the new class that have been picked up by sponsors:

— "Fettle," a paint-on-steel piece made by Luke Achterberg of Lexington, Ky., sponsored by Michael and Connie Hosier. The site for it is pending.

— "Glory Pipes 2.0," made of aluminum, steel, LEDs and electronics by Fairfield Enterprise Public Art Collective of St. David, Ariz. The Station, the former train depot in downtown Champaign, is sponsor of the "interactive" piece — its lights change as people approach. It will be installed north of the depot.

— "Circle of Friends" by Karen Crain of Littleton, Colo. Made of bronze, The most traditional sculpture shows a girl sitting inside a circle, reading a book. Friends of the league are sponsoring it; the details of where it will be sited are being hammered out.

— "It's a MisTree," a stainless steel piece by Michael Helbing of Berwyn will be sponsored by the C-U Mass Transit District and be sited near the Illinois Terminal, replacing "Fallen Angel Watcher" alongside University Avenue.

Two Helbing sculptures already are in C-U: one is "Beautiful Storm" at the University of Illinois Research Park; the other, "Ice," is in Mattis Park.

The Public Art League posted on its website ( photographs of all 12 of the sculptures.

People seem to love to hate public sculptures — some derisively call them plop art. And you've seen the letters to the editor, some wrongly claiming tax money should not be going to public art.

That's the beauty of the Public Art League's program: Private individuals or groups pay for most of the leases.

The cities and park districts in some cases donate time and money to install them. The city of Champaign has earmarked tax-increment financing money for beautification, and the league's sculptures fall into that category.

And by the way, you don't have to relegate to Facebook or other social media your opinions about the public art. The Public Art League's website allows you to sort of interact with and comment on the sculptures, via S4PAL.

What's that?

"It's a guide, a game, a poll and a new kind of social media," reads the explanation at the league's website. "Developed by Studio 2D and 2wav, S4PAL is an online application that allows you to give your impression of Public Art League sculptures through the use of descriptive adjectives.

"Once you have provided your impressions, you can see how your answers compare to others who responded. Simply go to and experience S4PAL!"

As for the new class of sculptures, league treasurer Eric Robeson said the day after the virtual unveiling that there is a lot of interest in them.

"I think we're going to get a lot of these leased," he said.

Crucify me

The coolest Facebook post I saw on Father's Day came from opera star and Champaign resident Nathan Gunn, the father of five: "Here we go. Father's Day and I'm going to be crucified on stage. ... It's a living."

Gunn is playing the role of Yeshua, better known as Jesus, in the world premiere at the San Francisco Opera of "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene," by Mark Adamo. Gunn sings the role through July 7.

"Baritone Nathan Gunn's Yeshua offers a telegenic, laid-back Jesus, Buddha-like at his best, a self-absorbed self-help guru at his worst," Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed wrote in a review published Thursday. "He was not at all divine, which made his crucifixion seem like the horrendous torture that could befall any political dissident."

The San Francisco Opera commissioned the new work by Adamo; Swed calls him of the three most successful of today's American opera composers, the others being John Adams and Philip Glass.

Gunn is known as an advocate of new operas. After "Magdalene" wraps up in San Francisco, Gunn will head East to sing the role of Sir Lancelot in "Camelot" at the Glimmerglass Festival near Cooperstown, N.Y.

Davina a diva

A friend of mine joked that I had crossed the line — Wright Street — to catch the Davina and the Vagabonds show Wednesday night at Mike 'n' Molly's beer garden in downtown Champaign.

Yes, I even shelled out $12 to enter the garden to get closer to the Minneapolis-based band, which performs a mix of old-time jazz, blues, etc., with a rockin' beat.

At one point, 15 or so people stood outside the iron fence of the beer garden, listening to Davina and her Vagabonds. A couple even danced in the street.

After one number, a young man behind the fence, exclaimed loudly, "Purty good." People laughed.

I also noticed at least one or two members of the local, award-winning Kilborn Alley Blues Band inside the garden, checking out the band.

Davina Sowers, with her uplifted 1940s hairdo, tattooed arms and huge personality, is one of the best band leaders out there. She has a commanding presence and voice, plus she really rocks the keyboards.

She also plays ukulele and sometimes sings through a megaphone. She's touring with a strong group of musicians who play trombone, trumpet, upright bass and drums.

She has already built a local following and likely will play around here again. If she does, don't miss her.

Oh, and for the record, I failed to mention Mike 'N' Molly's beer garden in my e3 story last week about outdoor concerts. It's a nice venue inside a brick courtyard, with very few vehicles passing by on Market Street.

Their Friday and Saturday shows this summer are in the courtyard. The Vagabonds played there Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

From a reader

Carol Dixon-Hunt emailed me about the fifth annual Fleurotica, a runway fashion show of clothes made from plants and flowers that took place on June 12 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Among those in attendance were Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as the honorary chairman of the event, and a couple of women with Champaign connections:

"Irit Silverman, daughter of late attorney Brian Silverman, was the director of backstage operations," Dixon-Hunt told me. "She invited Andrea Hunt, my daughter, who is a florist living in Kansas City (A. Hunt Design), to be one of the designers.

"They are childhood friends and went to Central High School together. I was Andrea's 'backstage helper' for the day and was privileged to watch these incredible creations take form throughout the day. The amount of preparation before and during this day is truly amazing!"

Dixon-Hunt said all of the designs are made from flowers and plants and were really spectacular. Several websites, among them and, documented the event. I took a look: Wowsers. Wish I could have been there.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

Topics (2):Art, Music

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