The Battle for Lincoln Park
The turnout for the Milwaukee County Public Art Committee meeting at Lincoln Park on March 7th was surprisingly low. For a moment, I thought that I’d gone to the wrong place. It was a particularly dismal day, and as the rain made soup of the lush green landscape, it was hard to keep the cold out of the dated clubhouse we met in.
Japanese sculptor Takashi Soga was there to present his proposal for a permanent art piece in Glendale’s Lincoln Park.
It’s possible that Soga does not realize the buzz that his proposed project has created, or that some members of the art community feel slighted and shut out of this pricey decision. Against such a gloomy backdrop, you had to feel for him as he addressed a room of skeptics, trying to articulate his artistic vision in broken English.
So what’s the big deal?
In this case, the selection committee initially made a short list of five applicants, but later decided to short list Soga alone because they felt that his piece was the most significant out of the group. Soga was the only artist invited to present, implying to some that this was, in essence, a done deal.
There’s also the issue of funding. The total public art budget for Lincoln Park is about $250,000, however Soga’s proposals will need an additional $100,000 from the city.
In a press release from IN: SITE, a resource for temporary public art in Milwaukee, IN: SITE Chair and MCPAC member Pegi Taylor outlines the additional costs:
$20,000 installation and transportation
Taylor also argues that the piece proposed by Soga is similar to sculptures that he’s installed in other cities, and says that the pieces are “cookie cutter.”
Local artist and co-owner of The Green Gallery John Riepenhoff also voiced his concerns at the public meeting. Riepenhoff, along with artists Cat Pham and Sarah Luther also submitted a proposal for the site and made it into the top five selections, but were not invited to present their ideas to the public.
“I feel like a few elements of [MCPAC’s] criteria that they set up for the selection aren’t met by Soga’s proposal,” Riepenhoff says, “ and he showed a lack of service to Milwaukee and the community.”
On the other hand, artist and selection committee member Richard Taylor released this statement in response to opponents of the piece:
“The committee considered many applications for this project, and came to a unanimous or near-unanimous conclusion. One proposal stood well above all other proposals in my mind, and in the minds of most committee members. This proposal is by artist Takashi Soga. His sublime, poetic sculpture introduces the elements of time and movement into a medium usually limited to three dimensions. If you have the opportunity to see his piece in Evanston, IL, you might find it quietly captivating and timeless. A piece by this artist in our community would be a very positive aesthetic gain for our local urban landscape.“
Nonetheless, the mood was tense last Saturday and became even more so as the floor was opened up for questions. While some of the attendees were in favor of Soga’s piece, others were waiting to be won over.
We should be asking why Soga was the only artist allowed to present, and whether it’s worthwhile for the city to spend an additional $100,000 when none of that money is going to be invested in Milwaukee. And what happens if the sub-committee does not approve this proposal?
For now, these questions will hang in the air. The Milwaukee Public Art Subcommittee meets on Friday, March 13th to make a final decision based upon Soga’s interview and presentation of his work. We’ll just have to wait and see.