Benches bring art to public

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 7, 1999

The only rule was to design a tile with your own personality in mind, to create an image that would reflect how you perceived yourself to be, something that could represent a part of you in a glazed and colorful square tile.

Thursday, October 07, 1999

The only rule was to design a tile with your own personality in mind, to create an image that would reflect how you perceived yourself to be, something that could represent a part of you in a glazed and colorful square tile. Making the tiles wasn’t a required project for recent Austin High School graduates, but it was a chance to leave an artistic reminder of themselves behind when they left.

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Creating the tiles, however, was only the beginning of the process. From the tiles submitted, 24 were chosen to represent each Austin High School class: 1997, 1998 and 1999. Wednesday those tiles – and the public "designer benches" they now grace – were unveiled after the Homecoming coronation at Austin High.

"Art in Public Places" was begun more than five years ago, but the designer benches suggested by Austin High School students almost as many years ago are only a reality now. Located on the east lawn of AHS, between the flag pole and the main entrance, the benches will not only be public works of art, but also a place to "hang out" and enjoy the scenery, according to art teacher and instigator of the project Bruce Loeschen. There are six benches in total, in three sets of two, each with a space in the middle for a future work of art.

Three benches down, three to go: 2000, 2001, 2002.

"I think the Austin High students are excited about getting something they made out into public places," one senior art student said. "How wonderful is it that students got to take part in something like this."

Art in Public Places, however, wasn’t and isn’t only an AHS project. It is intended as a collaborative effort to bring more art into the public areas of Austin. While the students’ works were showcased, other human parts of the collaborative like Jeff and Renee Anderson, the members of the Austin Zonta service club and the art teachers at AHS, have played an equally important role in bringing the project to fruition.

"Years ago, Bruce (Loeschen) and I had a conversation about the lack of artwork in the community," Jeff Anderson said. Anderson is making the granite benches and will also make the sculpture being planned by students and Zonta members as the next stage of the project. "It’s been sort of an ongoing discussion and this is part of the result."

Although a grant from COMPASS Rural Arts Initiative was the initial catalyst for Art in Public Places, Zonta provided the most recent spur of activity.

"They (Zonta) were looking for a project, and I was looking for someone to spearhead this project," Loeschen said. " … It’s been an emotional time – all these years I’ve been involved with this – but it’s nice to conclude my leadership role in this. I’m still on the committee though, and I think things are very much back on track."

Next on the agenda is the design of the 2000 tiles – tentatively scheduled for students during snow week this year – and specific design ideas and selection for the Zonta-sponsored sculpture. The sculpture will feature a marble or granite cube atop a base of the same material with either a bronze dove or eagle on top. Each facet of the cube is to represent at least one of the following Zonta ideals: improving the world; serving the community; peace and harmony; honesty; trustworthiness and loyalty.

"Things are still pretty much in the development stage for the sculpture," Zonta service committee chairwoman Nancy Grunewald said. "We’re aiming to have it finished in time to unveil it at the July Fourth celebrations 2000." Next year will also mark Austin Zonta club’s 50th anniversary.

Grunewald got interested in the project when Loeschen did the artwork for two of her children’s books. She voiced her concern that art and music are regarded by many as "fluff" or "frill".

"Art is really the basic means of communication and understanding between people," she said. "It can cross language barriers and time. Each of these benches is different; each class is different. The benches are an expression of that class at that point in time. I hope the community realizes that art isn’t one of the extras to be cut when times are tight, it’s one of the basics."

For Zonta the goal – inspired by a trip to the Blandin Foundation – is to encourage people to work together on bringing more and more beauty into the public places of Austin. So they challenge others to get involved with the next projects to come, two more statues to go in between the last two pairs of benches.

"I think there’s a rebirth now of pride in Austin," Grunewald said. "And it’s not just the statue itself that’s important, but people working together to make it happen. And then it’s something people can enjoy for a long, long time."