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Business of the Arts: Sculpture Walk Springfield aims to be workforce attractor, boost quality of life

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With the 2023-24 Sculpture Walk Springfield collection officially revealed April 29, 31 pieces are scattered like Easter eggs throughout the city.

It is the eighth collection released by the Sculpture Walk Springfield nonprofit, whose vision statement describes it as “a museum without walls with access to all.” The collection consists of temporary sculptures, most of which are up for a year, as well as 13 permanent acquisitions that have become landmarks in the community.

The group’s mission is, in part, to enhance quality of life while promoting economic vitality, according to the organization’s website.

The new collection is made up of conversation starters, like “Long Way Home,” a 12-foot-tall, sky-blue structural steel composition by Cape Girardeau-based artist Nathan Pierce. It’s a piece that seems to have fallen out of orbit and landed at the corner of Park Central West and South Campbell Avenue.

Or there’s “When We Were Young” by North Carolina-based sculptor J. Aaron Alderman, newly sited in front of Hotel Vandivort at 305 E. Walnut St. That one is a 6-foot-6-inch steel-and-copper sculpture of three human figures climbing upward. This replaced another of Alderman’s sculptures, “When Lightning Strikes,” a female figure crouching in steel and copper.

Bridget Bechtel, executive director of Sculpture Walk since February, said this year’s collection has larger-scale pieces than those featured in the past. She said she enjoys the fact that the collection keeps growing in size and scope.

“I hope in the next few years we start to see more public art in Springfield and expand the program,” she said.

Many of the pieces are arresting. Some – like “Spiranthes,” a steel rendering by Springfield artist Nick Willett of a native Missouri orchid, located at the entrance to Founders Park – might also be called beautiful.

But beauty is not a requirement, Bechtel said.

“Art doesn’t have to be beautiful,” she said. “Art is a conversation starter. It can be the new weather. Instead of talking about, ‘Is it sunny today?’ we can talk about, ‘Did you see that sculpture down on Campbell?’”

Willett, who earns a living doing installations for Bass Pro Shops, has two pieces in this year’s collection, both chosen from conceptual drawings he submitted. The other, “Dematerialize, Manifest, Transport,” is at Walnut Street and Kimbrough Avenue.

Artists who exhibit in Sculpture Walk get paid stipends, and the amount is flexible, typically $1,000-$5,000. Bechtel said artists are paid through donations from individuals and businesses. The nonprofit houses its fund at Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

“The artists are our bread-and-butter,” Bechtel said. “If you want to see art, you have to take care of artists. You have to do right by the people who are bringing you joy.”

With Sculpture Walk, artists don’t have to worry that they will be offered payment merely in exposure.

“You can’t buy groceries with exposure,” Bechtel said.

“But you can die of exposure,” Willett chimed in.

Tim Rosenbury, director of quality of place initiatives for the city of Springfield, said environmental sculpture is a quality of place feature.

“Environmental sculpture, and Sculpture Walk in particular, add to that kind of community character that makes Springfield more competitive as a place for businesses to locate and for employees to live,” he said.

Additionally, outdoor sculpture has a landmark quality and helps with wayfinding, while also serving as a tourism draw.

“The other thing that’s important in a city like Springfield, where we have 40,000 college students, is that it speaks to the enlightened younger generation that Springfield gets it,” he said. “If we want to attract the brightest and the best, then we need to be the brightest and best, too.”

Most sculptures are in public spaces, but a handful are placed at businesses, and there are no special sponsorship requirements for that, Bechtel said. Businesses can have their name on a sculpture, the official map or other materials with a donation, offered at various tiers that begin at $1,000.

Curtis Marshall, co-owner of Tie & Timber Beer Co. LLC at 1451 E. Cherry St., is a member of the Sculpture Walk Board of Directors, and he also has two sculptures at his brewery – one in the beer garden and the other an archway made of illuminated, weathered boards that is situated next to a “Welcome to Rountree” sign. That one is called “Portal #5” by Gabe Meyer and Jared Zillig.

Marshall said Sculpture Walk reflects well on the city by showcasing a spirit of energy, curiosity and enjoyment. It’s a lot like the vibe he has tried to establish at his business, he noted.

As a bonus to hosting artwork, Marshall said he gets a kick out of welcoming art lovers who pause for a beverage as they move from one installation to the next.

Brian Weiler, director of aviation at the Springfield-Branson National Airport, still has a sculpture from the 2021-22 collection on display – “Rings,” by Illinois artist Aldon Addington.

Weiler acknowledged not many people are going to walk to the airport to see its sculpture, but he said he likes how having a Sculpture Walk piece ties the airport back into the community.

“When you think of Sculpture Walk, you think of downtown,” he said. “Having a piece here helps draw the airport to its roots, which is our city. We’re not out here by ourselves; we’re part of the community, and we want it to be that way.”

Burrell Behavioral Health is in its second year of participating in Sculpture Walk with its Be Well Community Bells – iron bells painted by artists to tell personal stories about mental health. A bell by artist Samantha Cox, known locally for her murals, is located at the intersection of Park Central East and Benton Avenue.

Bailey Pyle, a Burrell clinical provider, said the painted bells help to reduce the stigma of talking about brain health. Like Bechtel, she sees art as the spark for conversation.

“Our brains follow us everywhere,” Pyle said. “To expect that we can leave those difficulties at home is ignoring part of our humanity. This is about encouraging those conversations, encouraging help-seeking and encouraging us as a community that is healing together.”

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