Ross Avenue underpass to be filled with "Happy Shapes" after Tucson team is selected for art project
“Happy Shapes” – a proposal for colored glowing sculptures in “evocative shapes” — was selected for a $112,913 public art project to turn the Ross Avenue underpass into a gateway between East Dallas and the Dallas Arts District. The artist team of Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock of Tucson, Ariz., proposed 30 sculptures made of translucent polyethylene with internal LED lights to be anchored near the walkways on each side of the highway underpass.
Their proposal uses geometric shapes taken from architecture around the Arts District, but the shapes would be made more intriguing by adding tails, mustaches and other “evocative” features, O’Connell said. They will also be raised up on four legs. “We felt it was important to include real objects,” he said. “There’s a great popular affection in Dallas for more figurative sculpture – the Pegasus, the steers downtown, and we learned from the Nasher [Scuplture Center] that the exhibits with human or animal forms are more popular than abstracts.”
O’Connell said he expects the 30 forms to be something that pedestrians could interact with (they will be able to touch a metal feature and change the color), but also visible to motorists as they approach and pass through the intersection. Plus, he expects the glowing sculptures would be visible during the day where 12 lanes of highway darken the road below. “Even at about 11 o’clock on a sunny day it was dark enough in there,” said O’Connell, who visited the site a couple times with his partner.
A committee of six people from the community and the city voted Friday on the proposals after meeting with the artists, and the winner was announced Monday. The committe was comprised of:
– David Allen, Bryan Place Neighborhood
– John T. Campbell, Nasher Sculpture Center
– Richard Mason, TXDOT
– Lara Moffat, MLA Lambert Landscaping Co.
– Judith Garrett Segura, independent consultant for art and archives
– Wayne Smith, Bryan Place neighborhood
In selecting “Happy Shapes,” the committee rejected two proposals that would have illuminated the underpass with colored LED lights. One of those proposals also included adding colors and shapes on four walls and a sculpture of glowing sticks that would be seen from the highway above.
The finalists for the art project – Bill FitzGibbons of San Antonio, Koryn Rolstad of Seattle, and the team of O’Connell and Hancock — presented their proposals at a public meeting last week where many in the audience were residents of Bryan Place, an East Dallas neighborhood that has been making improvements to the underpass over the last two years. They have added gravel, boulders, landscaping and graffiti art.
But the area is still dark and dirty and feels dangerous to some. Most of the residents at last week’s meeting raised their hands when asked if they walk through the area. But no one lingers there unless they are picking up trash or covering graffiti.
O’Connell said they might have added more lighting to their proposal with a bigger budget. But, he said, other improvements are needed at the intersection that a public arts project can’t fulfill. “We trying to make it a more friendly and attractive place and hope that additional improvements will follow,” he said.
Kay Kallos, public art program manager for the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, credited the Bryan Place neighborhood with spurring the city to move forward on the Ross Avenue art. The neighborhood began cleaning up the underpass after receiving a $10,000 “Loving My Community” grant from the city two years ago.
The art proposal is subject to some revision as the Texas Department of Highways and various other agencies review it for technical and other issues before it is presented for City Council approval. “At least 75 people are part of the public review process,” Kallos said. She also said the title “Happy Shapes” will likely be changed before the project is complete.
Blessing, a landscape architect, and O’Connell, who builds museum exhibits, have been working together on public art projects for three years. They have worked on pieces in parks, libraries and other buildings in cities including Tucson, Salt Lake City and Houston.
They’ve previously been challenged to create artwork that can withstand tough conditions. For example, O’Connell said, a sculpture for a small park in Tucson had to be “bulletproof and small enough that you can’t do a drug deals behind it.” They created a piece that resembles an electronic drum and children play with. For another piece that looks like a large lighted donut, they added a secret button that people can push to change the color for 30 seconds. When they installed the sculpture, they told only 10 people about the button and waited to see how quickly word spread.
O’Connell said they often see people hugging their sculptures or having their photos take with them. And they hope that Dallas residents grow fond of the shapes they plan to create for Ross Avenue. “We see it as a bridge, literally and metaphorically, to unify the neighborhood and the Arts District,” Blessing said during the presentation.
Source: Nancy Visser