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SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa

A Conversation With … Nicole Brown

Executive Director, Sculpture Walk Springfield

Posted online

How did Sculpture Walk start, and what is the mission of the organization?
Our vision is a museum without walls with access to all. The talks began about 10 years ago between two families (the Carollas and the Schneiders) in the Ozarks who had kids going to college in other cities. They were cities that had a really great public art network. They got together and they said, “Why can’t we have something like that in Springfield?” About five years ago, we started to look at downtown and see the improvements that were being made. We got together with the Public Works Department, put together a board of directors and started fundraising. We were able to get enough funding to roll out 13 pieces for our first year. We have 31 pieces now.

How is the art acquired, and who is funding the displays?
Sculpture Walk is for the people, by the people. On July 3, we were approved for our own nonprofit status. The [Springfield Regional] Arts Council had been our fiscal sponsor and allowed us to work under its nonprofit status. We haven’t received any government funding or city funding; it’s all individuals and companies from Springfield. Right now, our budget is around $80,000, and the biggest line item in that budget is going directly to the artists. Each sculptor gets a $1,000 stipend to borrow the piece for a year. Programs like ours, they’ve gained popularity in the last five years.

How does your mission connect with economic concerns?
[Our mission] is to enhance the quality of life and promote economic vitality through the artistic transformation of Springfield with outdoor sculptures. It creates a space that people want to be in. It promotes creativity and thoughtfulness. That’s what placemaking and public arts is all about.

Tell me about some of the pieces downtown. SBJ has a sculpture outside its office that I understand was made by a Missouri State University student.
That piece right outside SBJ is by Joshua Burd, “Go Where Your Heart Wants To Take You.” I think that one is really incredible because it’s a representational piece. The one at Boonville and Olive, it’s called “Hoodoos.” It’s by Joan Benefiel and she is out of Brooklyn. She is one of the only artists I’m aware of that uses this kind of resin that changes. It changes as the sun moves or the moon moves. Larry Askren did the Springfield flag, it’s called “Springfield Rising,” outside of The Coffee Ethic. I think it’s really cool to have one that really represents our city.

In the last few years, your nonprofit has funded more artwork to display and the Springfield Art Museum has had record attendance for the last three years. What is behind this resurgence in art?
It’s a lot of hard work. I think that there’s hopefully a national trend toward placemaking and toward loving where you are. It’s just the beginning and I think that we’ve got a lot of really cool and younger generation of arts leaders who are in Springfield. There’s a lot of momentum right now.

Nicole Brown can be reached at nbrown@sculpturewalkspringfield.org.

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