Voice is given to those behind Minneapolis public art

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 10, 2011 - 9:46 PM

Interactive audio allows passersby to access the creators of the city's public art and give them feedback.

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Blossoms of Hope at Penn and Broadway

Photo: Steve Brandt, Star Tribune

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Amid the bricks and downed trees and power lines scattered on a north Minneapolis corner by last May's tornado, one just-installed sculpture loomed over the intersection like an omen of hope.

Marjorie Pitz's five colorful aluminum flowers rose over a bus shelter that encircled their stems like a vase. Wind-blown grit pitted their paint a bit and one blossom had umbrellaed inside out, but the installation at Broadway and Penn Avenue N. was otherwise unscathed.

Now Pitz and other artists who have created works at 13 sites across the city have a voice for those and similar stories.

Minnesota Public Radio and the Minneapolis Arts Commission on Thursday launched a new service in which passersby will be able to hear from the artists who created the selected works. They can access the vignettes by dialing in, texting or scanning a code with a smartphone and can leave comments or pose questions for the artists. There's also Web access at bit.ly/MPRpublicart.

MPR producer Jeff Jones, who interviewed the artists and edited them, said he had a target audience in mind for the interactive tour of art.

"I hope it's great fun for people waiting for buses all over town ... why does this bus shelter look like a vase of flowers?" he said.

With nine installations unveiled so far this year, city arts administrator Mary Altman eschewed individual dedications for most, unveiling them as a package on Thursday. The 13 featured sites range from four decorative drinking fountains to the 35W Remembrance Garden to 60 photographs from Wing Young Huie's Lake Street portfolio.

The biggest collections are multiple works by Seitu Jones in the North Side's Heritage Park redevelopment and four sculptures by James Brenner in Jackson Square Park in northeast Minneapolis. A map of the audio sites is at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/dca/map.asp.

MPR plans to add more such audio vignettes about places, history, architecture and other places under its Sound Point program, which already features stories about the vista below Duluth's Enger Tower.

Council Member Don Samuels told those at the launch of the sound tour that he believes works such as Pitz's "Blossoms of Hope" can inspire the "incredible artists" among area youths. "Art is one remaining area of competency for many young people in the community," he said. They may not be succeeding with much else in their lives, but art provides a lifeline to reach them.

As the massive flowers hovered over his shoulder, Samuels added, "This is an incredible entrée for our community to see that we celebrate art."

Pitz, who worked with metal fabricator Ben Janssens, said the work is her fourth public installation in Minneapolis. Working within the confines of Metro Transit's restrictions for bus shelters wasn't easy.

The 10-sided shelter through which the metal stems of the flowers rose had to use standard-size bus shelter panes of glass, with two doors for access and exit. The work was anchored through the sidewalk concrete by the five stems that pass through the shelter's roof. After the storm, the petals got a touchup painting and the warped blossom was replaced.

"The tornado really helped us feel that we have engineered everything right," Pitz said.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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