Sculpture Valley launches Appleton’s first outdoor public sculpture exhibition
“A community without art is invisible to the world.”
Alex Schultz found himself returning to this quote so often that it became the tag line for his arts advocacy organization, Sculpture Valley. The Appleton-based nonprofit is working to establish the Fox Valley as a nationally recognized arts and culture destination.
“Art gives us an identity,” says Schultz, who serves as president of Sculpture Valley. “There’s a bubbling under the surface and Appleton is absolutely eager and ready for this.”
To achieve this goal, Schultz and Sculpture Valley Co-founder Rob Neilson are launching Acre of Art in July. Acre of Art, a program of Sculpture Valley, is poised to be Appleton’s first outdoor public sculpture competition and juried exhibition.
The rotating exhibition, funded by area businesses and individual sponsors, will introduce up to 12 new public art pieces each year on two-year leases. This means at any given time, Appleton’s downtown and riverfront districts will host up to 24 sculptures created by artists throughout the Upper Midwest. After a two-year run, sculptures will be removed and replaced with a new crop of art. Sponsors will have the option to buy the work before it is released for public sale or returned to the artist. Sculpture Valley intends to purchase one work per season to be placed permanently within city parks, urban green spaces or along public trails.
Sculpture Valley has several potential art sites selected, but the final selections will be dependent on sponsors and the artwork itself.
“The goal is to have the pieces spread wide. You may have to go to The Refuge, down to the riverfront or the parklet on College Avenue so you see how art works in the community. That’s the challenge of this, to find the right pieces and give them their own space,” Schultz says.
Neilson, an associate professor of art at Lawrence University, says the project offers dimensional artists an opportunity to show their work while enhancing Appleton’s public spaces.
“It’s a means for people to engage with the community and engage with art, to grapple with big, beautiful ideas,” he says. “It creates discussions about what we value, how we see ourselves and our place in the state, in the country and the world.”
“Rob and I would do the Mile thing and we’re walking from one venue to the next thinking, ‘It sure would be nice to have something else engaging me while I’m taking part in this,” Schultz says.
Sculpture Valley is now partnering with Mile of Music, as well as Appleton Downtown Inc.’s Creative Downtown Appleton, Tundraland Home Improvements and Boldt Company, to bring Acre of Art to life.
Mile of Music Co-founder Dave Willems says he was excited by the prospect of adding more visual art during the music festival which occurs August 3–6, as well as throughout downtown year-round. Mile of Music is sponsoring a sculpture.
“As downtown Appleton becomes a bigger destination, making public art accessible is what’s going to create a more well-rounded experience,” Willems says. “Rob and Alex have put together a pretty impressive project. This is a big leap forward in how the Appleton community can embrace the concept of public art.”
In June, a panel of local judges will review artist submissions and select works based on their visual and cultural impact as well as their relation to the selected sites. Installation will occur in July with an opening reception to follow. Special events and tours during Mile of Music are also being planned.
While Acre of Art is the first endeavor of its kind in Appleton, Neilson says it plays off the creative momentum that already exists in the area which offers advantages for individuals looking to make an artistic impact.
“The scale of Appleton really is the beauty of a place like this,” he says. “[Schultz] and I can put sculptures out there and change the aesthetics of a city as just two guys with an idea. If this were Chicago, we couldn’t do anything to change the face of it, but in Appleton we can. And I’m convinced it’s ready.”