Public artwork dresses up city
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
12/26/12 at 7:28 AM
See more Review the lists of public art inside City Hall and around Tulsa.
Over the more than four decades since the Arts Commission was established, the city of Tulsa has amassed a collection of nearly 600 public artworks.
They include creations in every artistic medium from paintings to bronze sculptures to murals and by well-known artists such as P.S. Gordon, Rosalind Cook and Dale Eldred, as well as those forgotten by time.
The pieces are displayed outside on public property and inside City Hall and other city-owned buildings throughout Tulsa.
The commission, made up of mayoral and City Council volunteer appointees, continues to advocate for funding - $60,000 or so - to have a master plan for the city's public art program created.
City planner Jim Coles, who staffs the commission, said college graduate students and Gilcrease Museum interns have compiled lists of the city's art, but they are not comprehensive or particularly detailed.
A master plan, he said, would not only help guide the program into the future but, more importantly, would provide a professional inventory, evaluation and valuation of the public art collection thus far.
"It's a matter of timing, but it's certainly something we discuss a lot," said Linda Frazier, a longtime commission member. "I think it would be a great resource for us to have."
The commission was created in 1969 by an ordinance that requires 1 percent of all public construction dollars to be spent on artwork in an effort to beautify public space.
The move was spearheaded, in part, by philanthropist Katie Westby.
"Katie would come back from visiting other cities, and she was inspired by what they were doing with public art," said artist and former commission member P.S. Gordon. "She wanted to see Tulsa go in that direction."
At the time, Tulsa was one of only seven cities in the nation to have such an ordinance, Gordon said.
"We were fortunate to have the support," he said. "A lot of cities still don't have something like it."
Some of what's in the collection is from the 1 percent for art ordinance, while a lot has been donated.
The effort for more art hasn't been without its controversies over the years.
One of the first pieces the commission purchased was Roy Gussow's $35,000 "Amity," an abstract twist of stainless steel, for placement outside of what was then City Hall in the Civic Center Plaza.
A lot of people didn't like it - at all. The sculpture now sits outside the Tulsa Convention Center.
With the colorful tile mosaic by artist Sarah Morris being installed right now at the Convention Center, Councilor Jack Henderson has dubbed it the "ugliest thing I've ever seen in my life."
"Picking public art is like picking a public religion," Gordon said with a laugh. "You can't make everyone happy. Sometimes I can't even get five people in my family to agree where to go have dinner."
But there are pieces that seem to be uniformly adored.
Take, for example, the life-size bronze statue of an American Indian on horseback, "Appeal to the Great Spirit," in Woodward Park, or the new, giant Route 66 statue featuring Cyrus Avery and his family in a Model T encountering a horse-drawn carriage.
The most valuable concentration of the city's collection is what's on display in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Frazier said.
It was started with a few purchases with the opening of the center in 1977 and has grown over the years.
"Most Tulsans probably don't know all of the treasures that surround them when they go to an event in that building," Frazier said.
The biggest project budget the commission has ever had to work with was about $1.5 million for the BOK Center simply because of that venue's sizable construction budget.
With that money, the commission put out a call for proposals and ended up paying for floor medallions, paintings and a massive cloth-and-steel sculpture that hangs from the ceiling.
Coles said each new project is an adventure.
Finding an appropriate artwork for outside the Northside Wastewater Treatment Plant was a challenge, he said.
"It's a highly corrosive, arid environment," Coles said. "A lot of materials wouldn't survive well there."
The commission went with Doug Bracken's colorful, powder-coated metal valve piece called "Get A Handle On It" for the display.
Coles said he particularly likes it when artwork captures part of Tulsa's history.
Murals in the Lacy Park Community Center, the Centennial Park Central Center and the Tulsa International Airport do that, he said, as well as bronzes such as "Flame" in Council Oak Park, which commemorates the Trail of Tears.
One specific need for the commission is a small budget to clean some of the art regularly.
"These are city assets, and they must be cared for," Frazier said, adding that the commission tries to pick low-maintenance items.
None of the 1 percent for art money can be used for upkeep, and the commission has no funding.
Recently, a donation from the ONEOK Foundation allowed the commission to have several of the city's bronze statues cleaned and polished.
Some cities have expanded their ordinances to 2 percent to allow for maintenance.
Brian Barber 918-581-8322
Cyrus E. Dallin's "Appeal to the Great Spirit" in bronze is on display in Tulsa's Woodward Park at 21st Street and Peoria Avenue. JIM COLES/Courtesy
Ralph Helmick’s sculpture stands at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World file
Mike Smith works on a colorful tile mosaic by artist Sarah Morris at the Tulsa Convention Center. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World file
Sculptor Dan Brooks’ “Flame” honors the Trail of Tears and is on display at Council Oak Park at 17th Street and Cheyenne Avenue. JIM COLES/Courtesy
Felix Cole’s 60-foot mural “Black Experience” is on display at the Lacy Park Community Center,2134 N. Madison Place. JIM COLES/Courtesy
Artist Doug Bracken’s colorful “Get A Handle On It” is on display at the Northside Wastewater Treatment Plant, 5665 N. 105th East Ave. JIM COLES/Courtesy
Kendall Buster’s fabric sculpture hangsin the BOK Center. JIM COLES/Courtesy