Gray. Cold. Impersonal. Lacking identity. Depressing.
They’re all words used to describe the west face of the Interlink garage that casts a cliff-like shadow across Jefferson Boulevard.
But to more than 100 artists, that concrete expanse was a canvas. Now the Rhode Island Council on the Arts has selected the work of Miami artists Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquard to transform the structure. His proposal already has people using different words to describe the future look of the garage and how it might set the tone for the Warwick Station District.
Some of the words are: “Fun,” “colorful,” “exciting” and “lively,” to the more reserved, like “interesting” and “different” and other less complementary, like “out of place” and “Maybe in Miami, but not in New England.”
The work, featuring vibrantly colored “ribbons” running vertically on the sides of the southwest end of the garage, should be in place by April. The ribbons will be internally lit so that, by night, the work will set the Jefferson Boulevard canyon aglow.
But whether the work – “All Together Now” – will serve as a unifying element or as a point of controversy remains to be seen. Public art linked to development of Green Airport has a history of differing opinions dating back to the 1990s, when the “cloud machine” was selected for the Sundlun Terminal that opened in 1996. The machine, which was shelved in the wake of heated debate over whether it would work and its maintenance costs, was designed to send clouds up a glass chamber in the center of the terminal. In its place, transparent wing-like panels were mounted in the terminal skylights and a stone-like bronze sculpture was erected near the terminal entrance.
Ironically, for all the money spent on art [by state law 1 percent of the cost of a public project is to be allocated for art], a sailboat that reflects the state’s heritage and high-tech industries has become the terminal’s iconic feature.
Mayor Scott Avedisian suggested that an aquarium in the Interlink would be a good project for the art funds. He reasoned it would be in keeping with the Ocean State theme and a means of entertaining travelers as they waited for their rental cars. His suggestion did not go without consideration.
“There’s no reason it can’t be done as well,” said Randall Rosenbaum, of the Rhode Island Sate Council on the Arts, but noted that, “Landscaping and an aquarium don’t fit into the definition of an art form.”
After being sent the artists’ rendering of their proposal, Avedisian concluded that art is very subjective.
“I would have rather seen a large aquarium or fish tank inside the people mover that would allow people to see habitat and to get welcomed to the Ocean State in a very appropriate way.<\f> With 39 miles of coastline, it seems to me that we need to capitalize on the ocean and the beauty of our shoreline,” he wrote in an email.
A seven-member panel, including representatives from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, Department of Transportation, Arts Council and the city, reviewed applications from more than 130 artists, according to Elizabeth Keithline, public art manager for the Council. From those submissions, the number was winnowed down to three finalists who were invited to the site. Of the $300,000 set aside for art, $270,000 is being awarded to artists Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquard of Miami. The remaining $30,000 goes to a reserve account to maintain the work.
Initially, the ribbons were to include the words “All Together Now” that would be visible from the diagonal as motorists approached from Jefferson Boulevard. As Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquard have used those words on other works, Keithline said the panel’s feeling was it would not be unique to Rhode Island.
Of all the possible sites, the Jefferson Boulevard side of the Interlink was selected because, “We felt there was the opportunity to create a signature piece that defines the station district,” said Rosenbaum.
“It’s a fairly standard garage look,” he said. “The way it looks now, it makes the whole area look cheap. What the work will do,” he said, is “create some visual interest … make a statement.”
As described in its request for submissions, the council said, a goal of the project is to make “the greatest positive visual impact” on the garage façade.
Rosenbaum said he sees the work as giving the Interlink prominence, but not garishly.
City Planner William DePasquale is anxious to preserve and enhance elements of the Station District that make it unique, so that it has a Rhode Island feel and is not just another collection of bland office buildings and box stores. He questions whether the work does that and would be more appropriate to Miami.
Rosenbaum says he understands DePasquale’s concern. He’s open to the suggestion that ribbon colors could be more reflective of colors indigenous to the area.
Rosenbaum also sees the need to preserve elements of the district, such as the brick façade and tower of Elizabeth Mills, owned by Leviton, that defines the district’s character.
“The preservation of that building is a high priority. It should be preserved, absolutely,” he said.
The city hopes that Leviton and the Kouffler Group of Providence, reportedly in negotiations to acquire the property, won’t demolish the building. Demolition could come before Dec. 31, in an effort by the developer to save about $500,000 in city property taxes, according to unconfirmed reports.