In what might be a sign of the times, a public art project planned for a corner near Capitol Square has been scaled down in size, cost and visibility.
“Roads Diverge,” initially proposed for the pie-shaped area known as Rotary Centennial Plaza facing the Madison Children’s Museum at North Pinckney and North Hamilton streets, has been in the planning process for years.
But the vision in 2011 for a towering, $ 100,000 sculpture on Capitol Square that would move in the wind has been replaced with a more modest work: a forest of street signs clustered on existing poles around a concrete stage just west of the children’s museum, each bearing a word or phrase.
The Madison Arts Commission is scheduled to vote Tuesday whether to approve the final design for “Roads Diverge,” based on a design by Portland, Maine-based artist Aaron Stephan. Stephan was chosen from among 92 initial applicants and four finalists in a lengthy selection process that began in 2010.
Downtown Rotary pledged $ 35,000 for the art project. The City Council committed $ 25,000, and the children’s museum won a $ 15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to pay the artist’s fee, said city arts administrator Karin Wolf.
The sculpture was originally planned to be in place for a dedication in June 2013, when the Rotary Club of Madison celebrated its 100th anniversary at the site with a family festival called SummerPalooza.
But the plan ran into many complications and raised safety concerns, in part because the site is essentially a “wind tunnel” between the Capitol and Lake Mendota, Wolf said.
“Aaron Stephan gave us the original engineered designs, and we’ve been modifying them based on what we can get through with city Engineering,” she said. The project “has gone through more hoops than most.”
The project’s price tag has dropped significantly because much of the work will be done by the city, including fabrication of the signs, Wolf said.
“I don’t know the revised costs, because it’s just so much cheaper with the city doing all the fabrication and the installation and the final design work,” she said.
Words on the signs are from poetry, and their placement is meant to evoke trees, she said. The blue and green of the signs are intended to evoke lakes and trees.
“The original call for art for that site was to be sort of fun and animated, and to give people a destination point, and to complete the stage,” she said.
Madison Arts Commission chairwoman Leslee Nelson predicted the design will be approved by the commission and then move on to the City Council for a final vote.
“I’m sure people will want it to be (approved), because it’s been dragging on for so long,” Nelson said. “I don’t think people will say that it’s offensive and should not be put up because it would be disruptive or disturbing. It’s not obscene or ugly or offensive and some way.”
Fabrication could begin as soon as next month, Wolf said.