In cities like Detroit, Miami and Philadelphia, public art can be seen in commonly traversed areas without the need to step into a building. It undoubtedly contributes to the identity of a city.
Soon, Tuscaloosa’s public art scene will be making a few new contributions of its own.
About a year ago, the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority, along with the Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa, approached University of Alabama Art and Sculpture Professor Craig Wedderspoon with the idea of putting public art in all the county’s parks.
They agreed and decided to hold a student art competition to obtain the best art, Wedderspoon said.
Out of eight proposals submitted in April 2016, a committee comprised of local business leaders, PARA, the arts council and Wedderspoon narrowed the choice to two submissions: a joint proposal from UA students Amber Daum and Susannah “Ringo” Lisko; and another from Eric Nubbe, now a UA art graduate.
Not being able to decide between the two proposals, the council selected both. Nubbe was commissioned to construct a sculpture for Snow Hinton Park, and Daum and Lisko were commissioned to build one for Annette Shelby Park.
“They were chosen because of their overall design, aesthetics and how well they’re suited for the proposed area,” Wedderspoon said. “I think this is just fantastic.
“First of all, it’s another chance for the University to get engaged with its community. Another great thing is that it’s getting public art out there. Tuscaloosa is just waking its eyes up to public art and this is a way to get programs like that going.”
Lisko, a 19-year-old sophomore art major from Gallup, New Mexico, said she was floored when their proposal was selected.
“It’s a big honor because Amber was a sophomore and I was a freshman,” she said. “Having that big of an opportunity that early in my art career is huge for me.”
Daum, a 20-year-old junior from Ozark double majoring in art and architectural engineering, said she’s excited to be one of the first artists to contribute to transforming Tuscaloosa’s public art scene.
Sandra Wolfe, executive director of the Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa, said the deadline to finish and install the sculptures is sometime in October for the one at Shelby Park and March 2018 for the one at Snow Hinton Park.
“The more people can see how public art can add to a community, the more those ideas will get off the ground,” she said. “This is something we’re committed in a long-term process to. Each year we want to offer competitions to the students and staff.”
Wolfe said the artists were free to create whatever design they wanted, but they had to ensure that sculptures would be durable and safe.
Each project was given a $5,000 budget from PARA to cover everything involved in creating the sculptures. Wedderspoon said that’s just enough to cover the cost of materials; while the students aren’t making any money from the commission, it is great experience.
“One of the standards for artists in the world of public art who get a commission for it is that they have to have already completed a commission to prove that they can do it and not flake out,” he said. “This gives them an opportunity to get that first one under their belt.”
Daum and Lisko said the sculpture’s been a lot of work. Since June, they’ve worked on it from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. It’s now nearly complete.
“We called the sculpture ‘Amaryllis’ because it’s two amaryllis flowers making an arch,” Daum said. “It’s pink and green and 12 feet tall. It’s made of aluminum and steel.
“There will be two benches facing each other underneath it. The benches will look like leaves and will be made of steel rods that we’re heating and bending.
“I feel like the best part of this will be watching people’s reaction whenever they see it. Right now people are already coming out and seeing it because it’s outside of the metal shop. It’s already really exciting.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.