Sunday, February 16, 2003

Threatened sculpture may be back on track

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] The Crystalline Tower's fate is in the hands of the Cincinnati Parks Department board, which meets Thursday.
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After a 2 1/2-hour meeting with Cincinnati Parks Department Superintendent for Design and Planning Steven L. Schuckman, artists Susan Ewing and Vratislav Novak feel "guardedly optimistic" about the fate of their Crystalline Tower.

The tower, winner of the parks department's international competition for a site-specific sculpture for the new Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park, is a seven-story titanium structure designed to interact with the elements. It won out over roughly 30 other entrants from the 130 invitations sent out by the department for the $200,000 commission.

But more than a year later, the artists found that park board director Willie F. Carden Jr. was recommending to the board the tower be scrapped. Carden indicated $160,000 in increased construction costs meant the money set aside for the tower would go toward correcting, among other things, a faulty concrete-pour.

"I'm not going to let anybody put junk into the park," he said in a phone interview at the time. "... If I have to choose between finishing the park and putting in a piece of artwork, I am going to finish the park."

At a full house meeting in November, Ewing pled her case before the board, as did a number of arts educators, artists and patrons. Carden agreed to wait 90 days before making a final determination so engineering plans might be drawn up - plans made possible by a $55,000 donation made during the meeting by a businessman.

The artists hired Shayne Manning, structural engineer on the new Contemporary Arts Center, and set out to answer the three pages worth of technical questions raised by Carden's office.

"We were able to address all of the issues including the birds (droppings) and graffiti, with the exception of concerns about maintenance which we are currently working on," says Ewing. "We were told the parks department looks at the project as long term, one lasting more than the 35 years we can guarantee."

Meanwhile other arts advocacy was taking place in the region. Dr. Jerry Morris, chairman of the Department of Art at Miami University where Ewing is a professor and distinguished scholar, has promised to pay transportation costs for art students who wish to attend the parks board meeting where the tower's future is decided. Miami students have circulated a petition with more than 100 names in favor of saving the sculpture.

John Hutton and Sandy Gross, who have given money toward making the Crystalline Tower happen, sent out a letter last week to the parks commissioners, as well as other influential arts patrons.

The letter says in part: "Appointed representatives at the park board must follow through with their commitment to fund this project, lest why would artists take Cincinnati seriously in the future? Why would larger events, with so much more at stake - the Olympics, major conventions or exhibits - risk committing to a city, which has so flagrantly reneged on its promises? ... Is this a harbinger of poorly executed projects ahead: The First Annual Just Kidding Public Art Contest? The Maybe/Maybe-Not Prize? ...The Crystalline Tower would surely be a significant point of interest for our city, working synergistically with other downtown attractions, drawing visitors from far and wide."

The board's next meeting is 9 a.m. Thursday at 950 Eden Park Drive. Ewing says she has every indication the tower will be on the agenda, but if interested in attending the public forum, contact the board at 352-4079 for confirmation.


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