Building a foundation from scratch and looking toward a future of rejuvenation
Over the last decade, the sculptures installed by TAC have offered a quiet yet vibrant energy to the city of Providence, offering messages sometimes intricate and subtle and sometimes bold and unmistakable. The goal of the program has been to help transform the cityscape into a dynamic visual network that reflects the spirit and diversity of its people, creating a single point of interest that would allow people from different parts of the city or community to share a common interest or moment.
TAC’s founders were first inspired by public art programs in other cities, conducting research and reviews of programs in places including Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Illinois, Miami, Newport Beach, Azores, Baltimore, and San Diego. These programs often began with murals, which were relatively low cost to implement. Once they became more established and the public became more curious and invested, programs would evolve to incorporate the complexities of sculpture. Sculpture programs entailed expensive infrastructure, complex installation and deinstallation procedures, and costly maintenance. Early research and conversation with cities like Baltimore showed that people were looking to move away from owning large sculpture, as the maintenance often became much greater than the cost of the art purchase, and it was hard to relocate the work as population shifted around a city unless it was in a dedicated sculpture park. In Providence, TAC’s founders faced the similar challenge of having few willing landowners who were willing to help bear the cost and liability of sculpture installation.
In 2012, TAC began the process of having conversations with community and government leaders about infrastructure and scalability of a sculpture program in Providence. As part of the City of Providence’s effort to identify existing public art and create opportunities for local sculpture artists, TAC partnered with various City departments and artists to develop an art walk as part of Providence’s FirstWorks Festival. The art walk combined the existing sculpture work in the Biltmore Park with new artworks completed by local sculptors. Highlights included pedestals by local metal fabricator and artist Barret Kern who repurposed the recently removed bus signs from Kennedy Plaza to create portable display pedestals for new small sculptures by four local artists.
Recognizing the value of public art in the newly renovated Kennedy Plaza, TAC met with key City agencies and stakeholders to secure approval to fund various projects in this high-profile area of downtown Providence. The opportunity was first identified by Fred Kent, the founder of PPS, who did the survey work and master plan for the first phase of construction In Kennedy Plaza. When the city decided to remove the public art infrastructure from the construction, TAC was able to subsidize this budget to align with Fred Kent’s team thoughts and community input.
Given that one of the most resource-intensive components of sculpture are the infrastructure, the construction in Kennedy Plaza offered a unique opportunity to create a permanent foundation to support a local sculpture program. In 2013-2014, TAC installed reinforced concrete pads for sculpture installations weighing up to 10 tons, as well as conduits to hold cables for sound, power, and lighting, which would support future needs for art and performances in the plaza. In addition, TAC funded color-changing upward LED lighting for all the trees, and lighting for the monument in the center of the plaza to be completed in 2015.
In parallel, in 2014, TAC partnered with the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission (RDC) which oversees the management of 20 acres of land freed up by the relocation of Interstate 195. In order to draw attention and add value to the unoccupied land, 12 artists were commissioned to create and install temporary sculptures on the property. We helped the RDC navigate the complexities of bringing public art to the space and stepped in to provide missing funding to pay artists to create new pieces of artwork. We also supported artists by helping them review contracts and by documenting their work from conception in the studio to installation in the field. Featured artists included Frank Hammond, Topher Gent, Sophia Sobers, Adam Anderson, Sophia Sobers, and Matthew Kramer.
Amid this early work, TAC was doing some deeper thinking along with the City of Providence about building public art infrastructure. In October 2015, the City and TAC conducted a review of public art programs in other cities, including Indianapolis, Baltimore, San Francisco, Seattle, Madison, Los Angeles, and others. The goal was to better understand how to strengthen and differentiate Providence as the “Creative Capital”. Identified goals included educating city departments, private and public stakeholders about the importance of public art; being present at city meetings to review construction plans for downtown and other areas of the city to find possibilities for public art; and working toward a public art festival that included both 2D and 3D art.
This groundwork and thinking helped lead in 2015 to the presentation of INFLUX, a new visual network of public art encounters in Providence presented by TAC that would see two annual iterations. INFLUX featured more than 20 works of art of local, national, and international artists – and included murals, sculptures, and mosaics, as well as active/visual performances and temporary installations. The projects were concentrated in two locations: downtown Providence and the “Cultural Corridor” between Classical and Central High Schools. One sculpture included in the series was Gillian Christy’s Wheels and Wings – it was the first sculpture to be installed by TAC as well as the first sculpture the organization sold. Sculptures also included a work by JaeHyo Lee called Lotus, consisting of burnt black wood serving as the background into which Lee embedded discs of fresh food, which emphasizes nature and the inherently complex texture of the materials.
That same year, TAC also facilitated the first planting of a new set of perennial gardens to surround sculptures with natural beauty. We identified a group of grad students, local landscape architects, designers, and teachers. These individuals were paired up to plant different corners, with each garden designed to possess its own story. Each garden had unique characteristics, with some holding pollinators, and some having distinct aromas, heights, and colors. The gardens both created a natural soft perimeter for the sculpture pads as well as created a natural barrier to protect both viewers and the sculptures that may have sharp edges or protrusions.
In 2018, TAC brought a new array of sculpture to Kennedy Plaza. One big obstacle at the Plaza was the old signage and shelter at the site. In order to get full access to federal dollars for the renovation of the passenger/pedestrian space, RIPTA needed to repurpose the bus signage and shelter detritus. And that’s when Thorne had a brainstorm: RIPTA could donate the old signage and shelters to TAC, which could then offer artists residencies to create art from the recycled materials.
For this endeavor, TAC collaborated with the Steel Yard, a Providence educational industrial arts nonprofit. Tim Ferland, the public projects director at the Steel yard, chose Meredith Yonger and Kristina Brown to work on this enormous undertaking. The result was Metahedra, a large geometric sculpture that graced Lasalle Square at the corner of Empire and Broadway for 18 months until the spring of 2018. The first step was hours and hours of undoing the materials – plexiglass, rivets, light bulbs, wiring – and putting aside anything and everything that might be useful.
Over time, they realized they had a lot of triangle pieces and circle rims, and geometry began evolving as a focus. “I’ve always been interested in geometry and navigation that uses geometry to explain the world,” Brown says. “Playing with these shapes made us decide to use the geometrical concept of Metatron’s Cube” as a starting point. Metratron’s Cube is a sacred geometric symbol that some say forms the map of creation.
In 2018, TAC also worked with world-renowned sculptor Peruko Ccopacatty, who now calls Rhode Island his home, to implement a long held vision to bring four larger-than-life sculptures to Kennedy Plaza. Back in 1995, Ccopacatty originally submitted a proposal to install the work on the Plaza. Despite receiving approval from the city, the project didn’t come to fruition at that time. Over twenty years later, Ccopacatty and the Skye Gallery – which represents him in the United States – came together with TAC, the City of Providence, and RIPTA to make Ccopacatty’s vision a reality. His four metal sculptures included a seven-foot striding man built from reclaimed stainless steel, a 14 foot angel fashioned from reused chrome car bumpers, and two six-foot llamas – a symbol of Peruvian culture – sculpted from scrap metal. “My first time in Kennedy Plaza watching people enjoying the city, my dream was for my sculptures to be present for everyone to enjoy,” Ccopacatty said. “This was 20 years ago. Today it is completed. Thank you.”
Today, TAC’s sculpture program is entering a period of reorientation and rebuilding. As work begins to revitalize the perennial gardens and install new sculptures, our team members are also thinking about the right balance for presenting work to the public. TAC aims to facilitate sculpture that is relevant and that resonates with the people who surround it. Timelines for displaying works often come with tough decisions over balancing costs of installation, maintenance, and deinstallation with ensuring that the work is displayed for as long as people are connecting with the art. While there is never a perfect answer, our team strives to continue to find the unique footing for each project that meets the needs of the artists, landowners, community, and the artworks themselves. Sculptures are made to live among us, and they give back to the community all of the energy that goes into their creation.