As ACREofART enters its third season, FCM caught up with Sculpture Valley Executive Director Alex Schultz to get the latest on this public art programming initiative.
Can you describe what ACREofART is and its overall mission for those who are unfamiliar?
Alex Schultz: Let me start with a little framework so readers understand the relationship between Sculpture Valley and ACREofART. Sculpture Valley is a non-profit arts advocacy organization that was founded back in 2011 to bring new life to our public arts collection, specifically sculptural works. We spent a number of years focused on the immediate need – securing funding and restoring existing sculptures and memorials that were in a critical state of neglect. Some of these projects have been completed. Perhaps the most notable is the “Spirit of the American Doughboy” WWI memorial on Memorial Drive in Appleton. Some restoration projects are still in process as their timelines are dependent on development downtown and along the waterfront.
In 2017, Sculpture Valley launched ACREofART – our first programming initiative to introduce new, large-scale public artworks to the Fox Cities on a rotating basis. It employs a lease-based, juried-competition structure that’s become popular among progressive, urban centers around the country.
Sculpture Valley’s ACREofART is a biennial exhibition supported by direct sponsorship of artworks by local businesses and community members. It’s worth noting that while these sculptures are for the public to enjoy, the program is made possible without use of any taxpayer dollars. We’re just getting stared on our third season, and are on-track to add a new crop sculpture to the Fox Valley and expand into new communities this year.
How many sculpture are there currently?
AS: There are 17 ACREofART artworks currently in place in the Fox Cities, mostly sited in the downtown districts of Appleton, Neenah and Menasha. Because it’s a staggered biennial exhibition, the first nine works installed in 2017 will be replaced this year. The works installed in 2018 will be replaced in 2020. This 2-year leased model offers the community both newness and familiarity from one year to the next.
How does the community benefit from ACREofART’s growing public art collection?
AS: The goal of the ACREofART program is simply to spread the joy of public artworks across the Valley. These on-loan sculptures not only enhance the attractiveness of our communities but also directly contribute to our quality-of-life. Yet, unlike one-off arts events or programming, which can be measured for success based on attendance and dollars spent, the economic benefit of placing dimensional artworks in the public domain is a little harder to measure. This is the reason why we are often challenged to meet the criteria of many corporate grant opportunities. We cannot easily assign a return on investment or a number for citizens served by the exhibition. We often have to shift the conversation when approaching arts patrons who steer us towards grant committees focused on serving the under-served or root-cause initiatives. Our position is more over-arching. We seek to improve the quality of the life-experience for all residents and visitors throughout the Fox Cities with the esthetic and thought-provoking power of art.
I understand there’s been some controversy over some of the pieces in the first couple of seasons. What’s your reaction to this?
AS: You can’t please all of the people all of the time. If that were the case, how would we be challenging ourselves to experience new things? That being said, artists and advocates have to be sensitive to the challenge of placing public works in public spaces. When we jury the exhibition, selecting a few pieces from dozens of submissions, we’re very conscience of this. Still, you can’t foresee or accommodate all the subjective reactions. That’s the wonderful beauty of art!
One of the top-ranked works from the first season was stolen (and subsequently recovered) because a couple residents found their personal interpretation to be too challenging. Another work from season II was highlighted in a Post Crescent article as being “controversial” though it is a simple construct of stacked iron boxes…merely a study of spatial relationships.
Our hope is that the public comes to appreciate that public art is not always passive and pretty. In some cases it might challenge one’s way of thinking. Indeed, that’s the power of public art. Arguably, the most successful works are often the ones that are a challenge to interpret.
What partnerships are you developing within the arts community and how will they contribute to your mission?
AS: We’ve been working to cultivate relationships with many of the Valley’s arts institutions and within the arts community itself.
One of our strongest partners is Appleton Downtown, which has played a pivotal role in helping us find many of our sponsors and locations for installation. We are also pleased to be working with the Trout Museum of Art, which is redefining its role as a contemporary art museum. They have shown us incredible support this season. We will also be working closely with the recently appointed Appleton Arts Commission. We very much look forward to that relationship and working together to serve our community.
What resources does it take to execute ACREofART each year?
AS: It’s not as laborious as you might imagine. Each year we recruit a rotating group of arts professionals and community members that make the jury selection. Beyond that, it takes only a small team of board members and volunteers to execute the project. There are nominal costs associated with the installations. Each year we set money aside for advertising, informational placards and the annual update of the mobile touring app.
Can ACRE works be purchased? And what is the process?
Absolutely! In fact, it’s another key benefit of the program that needs more attention. All ACRE sculptures are for sale, and anyone can buy a sculpture at the end of its exhibition period. Of course, we give the sponsoring partner first right of refusal, but thereafter it’s first-come-first-serve. Sculpture Valley has committed to making an annual sculpture purchase as well, specifically from juried favorites if they are still available.
We will work with anyone interested in a purchase to facilitate the sale, relocation and installation of acquired works. Sculpture prices are listed on our website and on the Otocast walking tour app. In fact, “THEB,” the steel box sculpture at the Mead Pool site, already has a buyer. This serves the long-term goal of adding permanent artworks to the Valley.
How is ACRE funded?
AS: I mentioned it briefly before, but we’re shifting our focus from the grant-support model to a more patron-specific ask from known and as yet-to-be-discovered arts advocating individuals and businesses.
One of our goals this year is to cultivate emerging arts supporters in the community – those who may have never before committed to public sponsorship of the arts. We are really talking about the creation of strong and lastings partnerships where the value of public arts becomes self-evident and the funding cycles automatic. As this funding foundation grows, Sculpture Valley is afforded more time and energy to focus on fulfilling our mission. We love to create new and exciting programs and exhibitions, like our emerging interactive musical sculpture series which will appear sometime in the not-too-distant future throughout Downtown Appleton. As our reach and the number of sculptural installations grows throughout the Valley, so does the need for reliable annual giving.
Time is of the essence. The call for art went out last month, and we’ll be making juried selections in the beginning of June. We can’t do this without our sponsors! As the first season comes to a close, we hope our first-year sponsors (you know who you are) will commit to sponsoring this exciting third season of work and the mission of ACREofART. And for those who have not yet taken the leap, we’ll hope you’ll pick up the phone after reading this article and give us a call!