Signature Sculpture on Waterfront

Tuesday May 21, 2024

Aaron Stephan’s submission Clipper Trace

NEWBURYPORT – When you see the Statue of Liberty, you know you’re in New York City. Washington D.C. has the Capitol and the presidential monuments. Boston and San Francisco have their distinctive bridges – all man-made, public art that are so distinctive they are symbols of the place where they stand.
Newburyport has the opportunity to erect a piece of art, probably a 12-foot to 15-foot tall sculpture, in Market Landing Park on the new Merrimack River waterfront. The city hopes that a signature piece will attract visitors and residents to the waterfront.
The awesome task of choosing a signature piece of art for the waterfront is on the shoulders of seven creative resident artists and designers, coordinated by a city planner and project manager, who make up the city’s newly appointed Public Art Committee.
The committee, charged with recommending to the City Council the art pieces urban designers Sasaki believe should go in the waterfront park, is composed of Peter Carzasty, Paula Estey, Katherine Moran, Shanna Sartori, Cynthia Schartman, Kim Turner and Nichole Whelan.
Turner, who coordinates special projects for Mayor Sear Reardon, serves as the acting chair, working with city planner Andy Port.
The sculpture will be sited on a paved space between the new bike trail through the park and the waterfront boardwalk. The space will have bike racks to the east and benches to the west of the sculpture.
If that were not enough of a challenge for the committee, the city has until the end of June to award the commission when the grant of $75,000 must be awarded. And that is the total budget, including installation.
In response to its Call to Artists, the committee received 21 submissions by artists/sculptors that range from local artists, a few who already have pieces erected in the city and others who work in studios as far away as southern California, Key West and the Dakota tribal lands in Minnesota.
After discussing the 21 artists and their submissions, the committee narrowed the field of candidates to five, who are being invited to meet with the committee next month to discuss their work.
That meeting, which the public is encouraged to attend, will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 4 in the Mayor’s Conference Room at City Hall. The artists may participate in the discussion in person or on video.
The committee short-listed James Dinh of Cerritos, CA; Mark Faverman from Boston; Scott Goss from Shaker Heights, OH; Erin Genia, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota native American tribe, and Aaron Stephan from Portland, ME.
Each artist’s portfolio can be found on their web pages.
James Dinh, the son of Vietnam refugees, produces works that combine public art and landscape architecture, drawing on the cultural landscape unique to each site. He explores concepts of community, identity and historical narrative.
The Faverman Design team specializes in human scale design solutions. It is heavily involved in strategic placemaking, graceful civic branding, vital streetscapes and functional public art.
Scott Goss is an interdisciplinary artist whose work explores various mediums including public art, sculpture, interactive installations and glass. He has completed numerous public art projects and commissions, including illuminated sculptures.
Erin Genia, an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, is an artist, educator and com- munity organizer, specializing in Native American and Indigenous arts and culture. Through her artwork, she seeks to expand public knowledge and appreciation of Dakota and Indigenous peoples’ cultural art forms. Her work flew on the International Space Station in 2020 and has appeared in the Venice Biennale.
Aaron Stephan, born in Springville, NY, works in sculpture and mixed media. He often using humor and wit to look at everyday objects “not as metaphors…but [as] facts.”
In its call for proposals, the city asked that the signature piece have a nautical theme to play on the city’s roots as a coastal, river city where ship building has played such a huge role.
The Call for Artists was revised to broaden it from the nautical theme. “The original call for artists indicated that proposals would be considered for ship and/or maritime-related sculptures, consistent with plans and renderings for the park expansion developed by Sasaki during the past several years, as well as the theme of interpretive panels being installed adjacent to the new sculpture.
“However, after further consideration, the City and its Public Art Committee will entertain alternative concepts for the subject sculptural installation. As such, proposals need not be limited to ship and/or maritime-related themes. This change was made to address requests for greater flexibility in prospective artist concepts,” the revised Call for Artists stated.
The selected sculpture may be a literal or abstract interpretation and expression, and is not limited to any particular style or materials, but given its location near the river, it must be made of durable materials that can withstand the elements, including salt spray and harsh winter temperatures, with little routine maintenance, the Call for Artists stated.
Market Landing Park is primarily used for passive recreation, artists should consider the tendency of all children to play, climb or explore their surroundings, the call for artists stated.
No one artist seemed to have more support on the committee, but in general, the committee seemed to want the selected piece to include an enduring message. If the piece, like the one proposed by Stephan, is selected, committee members wanted to make sure it included information about the role clipper ships played in enslaving Africans.

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