Monday, March 31, 2003

Bats Incredible!

Public art project swings into action

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Artist Michael Sharp
Artist Michael Sharp with his "Pete Rose Suspension Bridge." United Dairy Farmers is sponsoring it for $10,000.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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It's Opening Day and the Louisville Sluggers are all over downtown. The signature bats are along streets, in public squares and adorning building lobbies.

The bats are everywhere but in the hands of baseball players, because these are not ordinary Louisville Sluggers.

No. These bats have been cut, sculpted, painted, drilled, wired, stained and transformed into works of art for another zany public art project: Bats Incredible! - the sequel to 2000's Big Pig Gig and 2002's Flower Power.

Many of the bats have hit the streets in time for Opening Day, and they will stay on display through October.

Eventually, there will be 250 pieces but right now some 50 are out, many along the Opening Day parade route, and others clustered on Fountain Square, in the Westin atrium and around the Great American Ball Park.

All 250 are expected to be in place in Cincinnati, Covington and Newport by June 14, for the official kickoff of the project. Before that, here are some batty facts to warm up with and then toss out between innings:

Artist Amanda Hogan
Artist Amanda Hogan Carlisle with her "Bats Amore." It's sponsored for $3,000 by Channel 9's Dennis Janson and wife Sara, and Donna and Ralph "Pat" Carruthers. It's in honor of the Jansons' first date and the Carrutherses' 45th anniversary.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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The instigators: ArtWorks, an art-oriented employment and job-training program for Greater Cincinnati youth, is staging Bats. Led by executive director Tamara Harkavy, it's the same group that produced the pigs and flowerpots. Arts activist Melody Sawyer Richardson, Cinergy Foundation president Joe Hale and American Financial Corp.'s Sandy Heimann are co-chairs.

The goal: The Pig Gig brought more than 1 million people into the streets as it netted $850,000 for ArtWorks projects. Organizers hope Bats will raise $1 million and bring in at least as many visitors. They'll probably get them, says Cincinnati Art Museum director Timothy Rub. "Let me say, I hope it will work, and I think it will. One reason I think so is the new ballpark is a great story for the city. There's going to be a lot of enthusiasm swirling around the park this summer and Bats Incredible! can only benefit."

How it works: A call to artists went out in December with a deadline of Jan. 8 to submit drawings or mock-ups to the Artistic Review Committee. Potential sponsors - the men, women, corporations and arts groups footing the bill for the individual works - got their first peek at the designs Jan. 13. ArtWorks began distributing bats Jan. 15 and gave artists a deadline of March 7 to deliver their works.

Picking artists: Sponsors who didn't select one of the designs shown Jan. 13 could hire an artist of their choice, though the projects were still subject to approval.

Rejects: Not many proposals were rejected, says marketing consultant Betsy Neyer, because the process wasn't a quality evaluation. Instead, it was a decision on whether it was OK for the public sphere.

Art supplies: Each work is made of regulation Louisville Slugger bats. They're 34 inches long, solid ash and weigh 2.3 pounds. How many bats will make up each piece depends on how much money the sponsor anted up.

But early estimates have it that by the time the project wraps up, 11,000 bats will have been used.

State of the bat: The Louisville Sluggers come in as raw wood - no stains or treatments - to make it easier for the artist to apply the finish of choice.

Paying the price: Sponsorships were sold at these levels:

• Grand Slam: $10,000. Provides up to 100 bats, gives the sponsor some say in where the work is displayed and pays the artist a $2,500 honorarium. Oh, and the final piece must be constructed of 75 percent bats. There are 20 Grand Slam sponsors.

• Home Run: $5,000. Provides 75 bats, gives the sponsor some say in placement and pays the artist $2,000.

• Triple Play: $3,000. Provides 50 bats and $1,500 to the artist.

• Double Play: $2,000. Gets 25 bats and $1,000 goes to the artist.

Beyond the bats: Other materials used include paint, wire, cable, benches, rebar, batting helmets, an automobile bumper, baseball mitts and balls, mosaics, found objects and, in one case, a flying pig.

Non-sculptures: Artists who are painters were offered an alternative: Wall of Bats, which are wall-mounted squares composed of 25 bats that the artists treat like a canvas.

And the artists are ... Some of Cincinnati's top names are participating, including Zaha Hadid, Joel Selmeier, Holly Schapker, Ted Gantz, Marcia Burke, Cole Carothers, Michael Sharp, Matt Kotlarczyk, Mark Fox, Scott Jones, Jimmy Jones.

Bat names: Artists and sponsors were encouraged to use puns in naming pieces. That's why you'll see Bats Music! where bats on springs can be used as a percussion instrument; Standing O Vation, a version of Stonehenge; BatMobile, a Calder-like contraption balancing bats, balls and gloves; a lounge chair named Batolounger; and a replica of the Suspension Bridge dubbed the Pete Rose Suspension Bridge.

The other Bat-Mobile: A Chevy truck has been converted into the official project vehicle. It has a large baseball player bobblehead on top of the cab, old Cinergy Field seats in the bed (for people riding in parades) and a baseball diamond painted on the hood. Magnetic bobbleheads decorate the hood at six infield positions. The tailgate is painted with the Cincinnati skyline, including the new Great American Ball Park with fiber optic "fireworks." It will cruise in parades and to sculpture sites and festivals. It also will do ambulance duty to pick up injured bats and take them to the Bat Hospital.

The Bat Hospital? Bats exposed to the elements, not to mention vandals and errant drivers, are going to be injured. ArtWorks may put the repair facility in the picture window of its 811 Race St., headquarters, or it may select another downtown location.

One size does not fit all: The final pieces will vary in size from those that can fit between benches in downtown parks to an 18-foot ball player to that giant Suspension Bridge replica, which is 9 feet high by 8 feet wide by 11 feet long. The smallest will have a 4-foot by 4-foot footprint (the amount of space where the art meets the ground). Larger ones will have multiples of 4 by 4 - say 8 by 8 or 16 by 16.

Standing up: Bases on which the works sit are concrete modular systems, so they can adapt to different shapes. In some cases, the footprint - say one that meets the ground in six or eight places - could require multiple bases, or multiple components of a base. Works will be bolted to the bases.

Sharing the info: As in the Pig Gig, every work will have a plaque listing the sponsor, artist and the work's name.

Finding them: Printed maps will be available in early June. Until then, log on to for bat locations.

Bat parents: Sponsors own the pieces (full disclosure, The Enquirer is a sponsor) and can take them home at the end of October. But ArtWorks is encouraging sponsors to donate the pieces to ArtWorks for its Nov. 3 auction/gala.

Who gets the money: ArtWorks, the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund and a charity of the sponsor's choice.

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