Taking Ownership of the City’s Sculptures
by Courtney Cerniglia
Artist Anthony Heinz May
installing “After the Storm”
Artist Sam Spiczka
Recently, the city of Appleton has had a lot of buzz about public art in the community. We wanted to chat with one of the founders of Sculpture Valley, responsible for sourcing and placing works like “The Collective” and “THEB: Stacked”, as well as beloved sculptures like “Cotton Column” and “Wing Meditation Bench.” We wanted to know what it takes to bring art like this to our community and why it matters.
Alex Schultz, Executive Director of Sculpture Valley, started his quest in 2011 in partnership with Rob Neilson, a local artist and art professor at Lawrence University. Together they founded Sculpture Valley, an organization focused on helping take care of the sculptures the community already owned and explore new installations.
Schultz and Neilson noticed many of the city’s sculptures were being neglected and wanted to help with the restoration and empower the city to take ownership of the artwork in public spaces. Many of these were war memorials like the “Spirit of the American Doughboy,” which honors local citizens who served in WWI and 85 of those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice. These memorials were either poorly restored in the past or simply neglected, showing signs of vandalism, scratches, rusting, and graffiti, and were not paying homage to those they memorialized.
By 2015, Schultz and Neilson’s work earned a line item in Appleton’s city budget, which allowed them to fund the full bronze replacement of the ailing Doughboy statue. Many of the other war memorial restoration projects are still awaiting redevelopment decisions, but funding for all of them is a constant in the City budget; this includes the redesigned “River” war memorial in Memorial Park, which is slated for rebuild this year. To date, this is still a primary focus of the organization, as Schultz is a veteran of the Gulf War. “In the future, we hope to introduce memorials for the conflicts not yet recognized in downtown Appleton, including those from WWII on,” Schultz said.
Restoration and ownership didn’t end with war memorials, however. They also wanted to reclaim artwork that had been moved or put in storage and place it back into public view. You might remember two of these works, “Metamorphosis” formerly in Houdini Plaza, and “Aerial Landscape” that sat on Lawrence University’s campus. With guidance from Neilson, Lawrence University staff completed a full restoration of “Aerial Landscape” in 2014. Sculpture Valley has also been advocating for the restoration of “Metamorphosis” since 2013 and is ecstatic that, in the year ahead, plans are underway to finally reintroduce the iconic sculpture, which has been sitting in city storage for nearly nine years.
One of the more well-known projects of Sculpture Valley, Acre of Art, started in 2017 with a goal to introduce more significant pieces to the community on a two-year lease. The goal was to bring in sculpture that “evoke emotions and spark conversation…to selectively and deliberately inject them into public spaces where they are most effective, most engaging…most evocative.”
Schultz says the project, now in its third year, has brought nearly 30 works to the area, five of which have been purchased or are in the works to be purchased to remain as permanent pieces of the Fox Valley.
Sculpture Valley seated a new board of directors this year with goals to install fewer pieces but by higher profile artists. Every piece that is brought to the community is reviewed by a jury for their value and what they would bring to the community. Schultz concludes, “If no one is talking about it, no one notices it, what’s the point? Art should spark ideas, conversation, and community, and that is what we hope to bring to our city with each piece.”
Learn more about Sculpture Valley, download the app to find where the current pieces are on display, and donate to their cause at www.sculpturevalley.com.