A $40,000 interactive musical sculpture, commissioned by the Conway Public Art Board in 2017, finally has a home.
Bluescycle was unveiled in October in Airport Park on Sixth Street, said Joanna Nabholz, an architect and president of the art board.
“It took a while to get the location finalized,” Nabholz said. “The artist had to restart. … He had some other projects going on, so we had to get back in line.”
Steve Parker, an artist, musician and curator in Austin, Texas, created the sculpture. It’s made up of five interconnected bicycle frames outfitted with bike horns and wheels “that play a variety of blues riffs and patterns,” he said in his artist statement.
It’s for all ages and abilities to play, the artist said.
The budget for Bluescycle was $60,000, which was $40,000 for the art and $20,000 for landscaping and site work.
Parker said in his artist’s statement that the sculpture “is intended to honor the legacy of two prominent African American composers with ties to Arkansas,” William Grant Still and Florence Price, both of whom grew up in Little Rock.
“Both composers utilized the blues language in novel ways, including in [Still’s] Afro-American Symphony and [Price’s] the Mississippi River Suite and the Suite of Dances,” Parker wrote. “Bluescycle also examines the politics of bicycle transportation, such as its role in the Montgomery bus boycott, in Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, in urban planning and social activism.”
The Conway Public Art Board’s original plan was to create a musical park, with Bluescycle as the first installation, in downtown Conway on property owned by real estate agent Spencer Hawks. He agreed to lease the property at Markham and Willow streets to the city for $1 a year for no less than three years. Hawks is now a state representative, but he wasn’t at the time.
However, Conway City Council member Shelley Mehl pointed out at the time that the city intended for Conway Public Art Board projects to be placed on city-owned property. The City Council didn’t approve the location for Bluescycle.
Kim Williams, director of the Conway Downtown Partnership and a member of the art board, said Airport Park was chosen as the site for Bluescycle for a couple of reasons.
“We’ve been working on a layout, a master plan if you will, for all our upcoming projects. This year, … especially getting people used to coming down Sixth Street and all the infrastructure, we wanted to add something midway,” she said.
“That little area has already become a very popular walking area with people and their dogs, and it’s cycle-friendly. That neighborhood between Oak Street and Sixth Street, we’re seeing a lot of people coming over and wanting to enjoy that park now,” Williams said.
Also, Airport Park is one designated for upgrades at some point, she said.
“The city wants to make improvements there, anyway. We’re putting a little emphasis on that area that hasn’t had any love in a while,” Williams said.
The city’s airport is no longer near the park, which is in a residential area. The new airport, southwest of Conway, opened in 2014.
The sculpture was paid for with a voluntary property tax for recreation. The Conway Public Art Board was started in February 2016 after getting approval in September 2015 from the City Council and being given a $120,000 budget, which came from the voluntary tax.
The art board also receives $30,000 a year from the city’s portion of the Advertising and Promotion Fund, which is a tax on prepared food and lodging.
The City Council approved the funding for Bluescycle but not the location, because it was temporary, said former art-board president Beth Norwood, who has since moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Then the Conway Public Art Board identified a spot on a former scrapyard that the city owns at Markham and Spencer streets, near the original location. The scrapyard has been cleaned up and is being developed as part of the Markham Street Corridor, a pedestrian-friendly street to connect Conway and Hendrix College.
Norwood said the project “just never materialized” at that time.
“I think [the city’s] timeline and our timeline were so close; we just decided the public art board would work with them at another point.”
Norwood said she’s happy to see that Bluescycle finally has a home.
“I’m definitely glad that it happened. That’s one of the kind of tricky parts of doing public art. There are so many
factors and players — the artist’s schedule, the city’s schedule, the board’s schedule,” Norwood said.
The Conway Public Art Board is moving on to its next project — two 15-foot-high LED light sculptures for a roundabout location in Conway.
The sculptures are being created by Deedee Morrison of Greenville, South Carolina.
The art board’s proposal asked for art to be installed at the College Avenue and Salem Road roundabout, but the sculptures will be installed somewhere along Sixth Street, Nabholz said.
After further consideration, board members thought the art might be overshadowed by the landscaping in the roundabout, Nabholz said, and Morrison agreed.
“She’s excited to move it,” Nabholz said. “[The roundabout] has a lot of landscaping at College Avenue and Salem Road, and the artist thought it might detract from getting the whole effect.”
The LED Light towers are fabricated from stainless steel and support the choreographed LED lighting systems, Morrison wrote in a description of her project.
“The sculptures have a strong visual presence during the day and take on the added dimension of light and color at night, which reflect the rich biodiversity of Faulkner County,” she wrote.
It is a $68,000 project, including site preparation and landscaping, Nabholz said.
Mehl said the city leaders want to have art in the roundabouts, and they suggested to the Conway Public Art Board that members focus on them, “since we have so many, and that’s property we already own,” she said.
The Conway Public Art Board also purchased The Revolution, by Sylvia Hardin of Austin, Texas, a University of Central Arkansas graduate. The multimedia piece includes 18 cast-iron rabbits, 3-D printing and twisted-steel-bar structures.
The work was Hardin’s senior exhibit as a Bachelor of Fine Arts student and was installed in April 2018 at UCA. The art board purchased the piece for $10,000 and moved it in September to a site near the railroad tracks and parking lot at Parkway and Main streets in downtown Conway.
“The thing I like about the public art board is they have the freedom built in to be creative for the community,” Mehl said. “It’s such a great group of people. It’s pretty diverse, and I think now with some direction from the mayor and the city, I think they’re going to do great things.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.