Tuesday, October 29, 2002

On deck: Cincinnati goes batty

Next public art effort based on Louisville Sluggers, ballpark opening

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati will go batty in 2003. Baseball batty, that is, with a public art project of sculptures made from regulation-size Louisville Slugger baseball bats.

Think of it as the sequel to 2000's Big Pig Gig and 2002's Flower Power. ArtWorks, producer of the Pig Gig and artistic liaison for Flower Power, will make the announcement this morning.

Two hundred works are expected to be created with many on the streets by March 31, in time for the Reds' Opening Day Parade, said ArtWorks executive director Tamara Harkavy. "Each will consist of as many as 100 bats and some may include found objects. We're tentatively calling (the project) Hit Parade.

"The idea is to commemorate the opening of Great American Ball Park. Mr. (Carl) Lindner stepped up to the plate with the idea and a contribution. It's his gift to the city, to say thanks for the stadium." Ms. Harkavy would not reveal the amount of the donation.

She hopes for the success of the previous summer projects. In 2000, 425 pigs decorated by professional artists lined streets, then were auctioned to raise $825,000 for 300 Tristate charities. Flower Power, produced by the Cincinnati Horticultural Society, put 175 36-inch painted and professionally landscaped flower pots around town.

A call to artists is ready to be mailed. Artists have until Jan. 5 to submit proposals for review by ArtWorks' committee.

ArtWorks has no idea what kind of proposals it will get, but there has been mention of a BatMobile, Bats Outa Hell, Bats in the Belfry, Fat Bat, Peppermint Batty, Batty Duke and Batty Davis Eyes.

Public art initiatives such as this are of considerable community benefit, says Robert Stearns, senior program director of Arts Midwest, an agency working with state arts councils. "The Big Pig Gig worked because it made Cincinnati a destination, and this project sounds as if it will do the same,'' Mr. Stearns said. "It will benefit a combination of causes: artists, the community, tourism, public relations.

"Projects such as this are good because they encourage creativity on a broad level. It puts to work artists of different aesthetics and builds from the ground up. The only downside I can see is that it limits the media they can work with, but artists are creative people. They can do it."

Moukhtar Kocache, director of visual and media arts at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, doesn't see such projects doing much for art in general, but does agree that "they function best as public relations strategies, because they don't place art in the central focus. I think there's a sense of the seriousness of public art that isn't considered in such projects, or if it is, it gets lost in the advertising campaign nature of the project."

Batty art works will dot the streets of downtown Cincinnati, Covington and Newport from Opening Day until the World Series next October, then be auctioned.

"Our goal is to make $1 million," Ms. Harkavy said. The money will be divided among ArtWorks, the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund (a new foundation that will promote baseball and baseball lore locally), and charities named by sponsors.

Artists and their works will be sponsored by corporations and organizations that can buy in for $10,000, $5,000, $3,000 $2,000 and $250. The higher the price, the more bats they get to work with and the more visible the location of the final piece. The project already has 14 sponsors at the $10,000 level.

The working title of Hit Parade won't last long. ArtWorks today launches a contest to name the project. The winning selection will get a commemorative bat designed by a nationally known artist. The naming contest runs through Nov. 8. Fax entries to (513) 333-0799 or e-mail artworks@fuse.net.

E-mail knippenberg@enquirer.com

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