Here's the pitch: "It's a giant reflective $6-20 million Queen Conch."
April 12, 2014 11:02 AM   Subscribe

How do you pitch a community on building an iconic landmark?

Here in Key West, the Navy has recently conveyed an enormous piece of waterfront property to the city. It is to be a park. However, when I say recently I mean over 10 years ago. While a plan is on the table, no one is happy with it and it constantly stalls. Subsequently the delay. However, recently there has been a great deal of discussion in our community about building our Waterfront Park around something iconic and extraordinary. One of the island's art community leaders explained it as "a wonderful abomination—that kids can climb on and around."

Yet the question that simmers in the background: How would it get paid for?

The "Chicago Bean " (formally titled Cloud Gate at Millennium Park) apparently pitched at just over $6 million, and wound up over $20 million. That must have been some process.

Does any part of the marvelous Mefi hivemind know anything about how to begin such a process?

Specific questions:
Where does one start?
Do you hold a design competition?
Do artists pay to summit for consideration?
How do you start getting people interested in supporting monumental landmark sculpture as a Cloud Gate?
How do you pay for it?
Finally, how do you rally a community around something so grand as landmark building?
posted by Mike Mongo to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might start with googling for all the information you can find on Suisun City, California and the redevelopment it did. For example: Unsprawl Case Study and and here is one with before and after pics of the harbor (though I recall seeing a much more ugly and horrifying "before" pic years ago, I cannot find it right now).

I was studying to become a city planner when life got in the way. I was living in Fairfield, California, cheek-to-jowl with Suisun City. I went to some of the local educational events where people from Suisun City were some of the presenters.

One of the statements that stood out in my mind is that they would try do this visioning process and the engineers would say "you can't do that because..." about basically everything. At some point, the mayor or someone said "we have got to get the engineers out of here." They made an effort to come up with an inspirational grand vision and figure out how to make it happen afterwards.

Though this was done very smartly too, so I don't think it was pie-in-the-sky. It was handled very pragmatically. They were able to finance it in part because it was clearly going to add value, thus making it worthwhile for people to invest. They financed a lot of it with bonds and that worked out and did not wind up simply bankrupting the city because the city grew dramatically and property values went up dramatically. The project added real value to the city.

They have the only Amtrak station in the county and they have a row of live-work properties along the waterfront. The area has a lot of charm.

The other thing that comes to mind is that in a park on Fort Riley, Kansas, there is a locomotive that kids can climb on and play on. It was donated. It used to be an actual working train engine. I and my kids have climbed on it. It was one of the niftiest things in the area. My husband was stationed there but we never lived on base. We lived in a trailer initially (in some podunk town) and then later bought a house in Manhattan. But we used to go on based just to visit this park with the kids.
posted by Michele in California at 12:29 PM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

You should definitely look at the history of the High Line in New York City too. It was created by random people who chose to make it their job, with complicated combinations of city and corporate interests.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Where does one start?

Travel and see other public art projects to get an idea of what's possible. Doesn't have to be far.

Do you hold a design competition?


Do artists pay to summit for consideration?

Why would they? You have everything to gain by attracting brilliant proposals and they know the chances are not good that their brilliant proposal will be selected. I would even go so far as contact artists you like and invite a proposal. It's also fairly common to select a small group of good artists, give them each a stipend to create a brilliant proposal and then choose the winner to fund--this is a solid model.

How do you start getting people interested in supporting monumental landmark sculpture as a Cloud Gate?

You start with a brilliant artist proposal--one you think will create interest--and pitch it like crazy in all the usual ways.

How do you pay for it?

Combination of private fundraising and city (more likely)/state/national (less likely) effort.

Finally, how do you rally a community around something so grand as landmark building?

You start with a small group of people who REALLY believe in it. Be braced though: any public art idea that's good enough to draw people who really believe in it will most likely also repel certain other people who don't like that kind of thing. That's just how public art is. Best policy is to design your process in a way that either 1) keeps the haters away from the process as long as possible (which creates tension later after it's installed) or 2) go out of your way to include everyone from the beginning (which creates tension over a long and painful process working out each compromise).

Public Art is easy if it boring. Interesting public art is extremely hard to pull off. The examples you cite are glorious and rare examples of this working (at a high price of course, which the brilliant artists and the city deserves)
posted by Murray M at 6:29 AM on April 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sometimes these kind of things are privately owned. (Notable when they sell it and the new buyer decides to move it.) (On the other hand, you can definitely get a steal buying second hand--the article says that The Awakening was sold for only 750,000$.)
posted by anaelith at 8:23 AM on April 13, 2014

The High Line cost an incredibly large amount of money:
The city was willing to front money because it would raise property values, and thus tax revenues, in a previously industrial neighborhoods. Developers were willing to front $44M so they could sell condos for more money. That kind of money is pretty hard to come up with in places other than NYC, but Key West does have high enough property values that you could probably pull off similar financing if you find the right foresighted developers.
posted by akgerber at 9:55 AM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I guess I'd start with the basic question -- is there a development authority overseeing this project, or is it just one of many things on the plate of the city staff and political leadership? If the latter you're in for a longer slog.

Ideally the authority would create a partnership with a local council for the arts, which would then manage the competition itself (and often this would be done by a blue-ribbon committee appointed by various stakeholders like the city, business groups, non-profits, and so forth). It would be helpful here to have architects, artists, and urban planners as well. They would then need weeks at least but better yet months to devise a set of goals for the project -- say, symbolize the city, raise property values, encourage development, bring in families & kids -- which could then be used to develop a call for submissions. Our city is currently using a planning process that includes a public session something like a focus group to develop goals for a downtown redevelopment, and that lets the general public feel they had input into the process.

This all may seem cumbersome and in fact it would be adding steps and lengthening the time to completion, but you also have an opportunity to get community input and lower the risk you'll come up with something people dislike.

Public art is a weird thing. I don't think it's the same thing as museum art, and making a real statement is difficult. I think it's more like building a fountain, say -- bringing beauty and aesthetics into something that's also functional. (Of course originally fountains had the public function of letting beasts of burden drink and that isn't the case anymore!) So in that respect Cloud Gate is a good example of something that's enigmatic and approachable enough to be "art" but functional in that it provides a visual symbol for the park and the city, a focus point for a park area, and an activity (talk about being made for the selfie) that draws people into what otherwise might be a forbidding open space. That's what I mean about functional.

I would focus less on the money situation at this stage as you want to use the process to develop a realistic budget based on what, for example, experienced arts fundraisers and corporate donors have to say. I mean, eight figures may not be your ballpark here (I live in a city almost three times the size and people are freaking out about a $3M bus garage and a $9M fire station, both of which are desperately needed). I think you also need to think about how this location integrates with tourist areas and how much focus you want on tourism vs. offering something for the locals, a consideration that is a bigger deal when tourism is so much of an industry.

That must have been some process.

Indeed, the entire redevelopment of what became Millennium Park was a great example of a fiscal fiasco that ended up a public success. It's my impression, by the way, that the specialized polishing needed for this piece was responsible for most of the cost overruns. But the entire project -- parkland built on railroad air rights -- went close to half a billion dollars, over three times the original estimate, in which a measly few million was barely noticeable. So that "helped" if you understand. A sculpture project on its own, though, would face greater scrutiny.
posted by dhartung at 1:58 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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