Surls sculpture slated for new Carbondale roundabout
Post Independent Staff
CARBONDALE — A sculpture by famed artist James Surls will grace the new roundabout at the intersection of Main Street and State Highway 133, following a unanimous decision Tuesday by the town’s board of trustees.
Trustee Allyn Harvey was not present at the meeting.
The trustees, at their regular bi-monthly meeting, discussed whether to accept an offer by Surls and his supporters, including local philanthropist Jim Calaway, to create and install the sculpture free of charge to the town.
Other options included the idea of having rotating sculptures placed in the roundabout temporarily, as part of the towns Art aRound Town (ART) public art program, or simply landscaping the circle that will form the center of the roundabout.
Public works director Larry Ballenger, who has been the town’s point man in talks and planning for the roundabout, said he felt it would be a mistake to leave the choice of treatment for the roundabout up to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“If we leave the determination to CDOT,” Ballenger wrote in a memo to the trustees and repeated at the meeting, the center of the roundabout would most likely be concrete.”
The idea of placing a rotating array of sculptures at the roundabout, as part of the ART program, was abandoned after Sue Edelstein, a member of the Carbondale Public Arts Commission (CPAC), said the commission had concluded it would not be practical.
Edelstein said it would be difficult for the contributing artists in the program to design a piece large enough to be appropriate to the space, and the prospect of having to install pieces repeatedly was not something CPAC felt would be feasible.
“This is a tremendous gift,” said Mayor Stacey Bernot about the offer, which has been estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity, and an outstanding showcase piece” that will prove to be a boon to Carbondale, she concluded.
One bone of contention at the meeting was the question of whether to open the process up to public involvement, even before a decision is made as to whether it should be a Surls sculpture or something else.
“My concern is that we’re not having a community conversation about this,” said Trustee Pam Zentmyer.
Other trustees, however, disagreed.
“The clock is starting to tick,” said Trustee John Foulkrod, referring to the time line for designing and engineering the roundabout, which is to be built next year.
Surls, addressing the trustees, said that the question of community involvement is critical, telling a story about two public-art pieces he was hired to build previously, one at a federal courthouse in New Bedford, Mass., and another on city property in a town in Texas.
The New Bedford piece, he said, was arranged by federal officials and not opened up to community involvement.
When the time came to unveil it, he said, the townspeople were not happy about the process or the piece, because “nobody knew it was coming.”
“The town … hated it,” he said. “They wanted to run me out of town on a rail.”
Ultimately the sculpture was moved to the back of the courthouse, he said, to make room for a Korean War veterans memorial.
The piece in Texas, he said, went through a very public review and design process, and when the piece was finished and installed, the townspeople came out and cheered.
But, he stressed, the townspeople did not have veto power over the design and execution of the sculpture.
And while he is open to public input concerning what the sculpture should look like, he will be the one designing and creating it.
“I’m not making any money off this,” he reminded the trustees, as he has said at earlier meetings. “The only way I’m going to make any money is if I don’t do it,” a remark that brought chuckles from the trustees and those in the citizens’ seating.
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