April 6 2011 12:00 AM

Riverfront sculpture needs more money for a pedestal


There’s a ton of sculpture coming to downtown Lansing — literally — but nowhere to put it.

“Inspiration,” a 2,000-pound ribbon of stainless steel by California sculptor James T. Russell, is buffed up and ready to shine from the west bank of the Grand River between the Lansing City Market and the Shiawassee Street Bridge, but the project has hit a snag.

Private donations covered Russell’s fee of $225,000, but cost estimates for the sculpture’s pedestal came in higher than expected, according to Lansing 150 chairman Michael Harrison.

The whole project, pedestal included, was expected to cost about $300,000, but Harrison said the 20-foot-tall piece will need about $75,000 worth of extra help to get on its concrete footings by the scheduled dedication May 15. Donations are being accepted (see infobox for details on making contributions).

The Lansing 150 Foundation, a group of volunteers and donors from the private sector, commissioned the sculpture as a permanent gift to the community after the city’s sesquicentennial birthday bash in 2009.

Harrison, a judge in Ingham County’s Circuit Court for 25 years and a senior attorney at Foster Swift, said the sculpture was inspired largely by Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate,” the big silver bean and tourist magnet in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Harrison wanted a sculpture with the visual appeal, interactive qualities and potential for tourism demonstrated by "Cloud Gate."

"Inspiration" was selected unanimously by a committee of arts people, donor reps and business leaders, after considering works by artists from inside and outside Michigan. Donors hope Russell’s interactive sculpture, the first major public art in Lansing in decades, will class up Lansing’s resurgent riverfront, draw tourists and inspire more downtown art.

But you can’t dump a ton of steel — not including the metaphorical weight of Russell’s iconic design  — on the sidewalk.

The sculpture needs heavy footings to help it withstand wind and weather, along with suitable elevation, landscaping, lighting and accessibility to the handicapped, Harrison said. And all that costs money.

Big private donations got the project most of the way. Among these were $50,000 from the Rotary Foundation and $25,000 each from the Dart Foundation, the Capitol Region Community Foundation and Auto-Owners Insurance.

The Accident Fund Insurance Co. of America, which is moving into its new headquarters across the river from the sculpture site, kicked in $5,000. So did the Accident Fund’s parent company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the General Motors Foundation and the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Harrison said that small donations from $50 up have added another $1,000 to the kitty so far. He was pleased at the community’s support for the project, especially two donations from East Lansing.

“I wrote one donor a thank-you note, and they turned around and sent another check,” Harrison said. “The little things add up more than you realize.”

Harrison said a permit has been secured from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to plant the sculpture in a floodway.

Russell’s design, which changes shape as you walk around it, is unique among his monumental sculptures, scattered in more than 40 cities around the world.

Its form has inspired several interpretations, from a teardrop-shaped candle flame symbolizing Lansing’s resurgence to a clean drop of water representing the city’s newfound embrace of the Grand River.

In an interview last fall, Russell said the interaction of male and female contours, the subject of his master’s thesis, has long fascinated him. With its fusion of rigid tower and curvy aperture, Russell described “Inspiration” as “almost climactic in that sense.”

“They’re attractive opposites,” he said. “The two become one and become even more powerful.”

Whether or not you take the idea that far, the sculpture is pregnant with possibility. Harrison and city officials hope “Inspiration,” like “Cloud Gate,” will draw tourists who want to look through it, touch it and take pictures from various angles.

In the longer term, Harrison said, the work could seed a strip-like sculpture park stretching north along the Grand River from downtown to Old Town.
In the meantime, the installation of “Inspiration” will give downtown gawkers a new spectacle to take in, now that the epic restoration of the Ottawa Street Power Station is finished.

Later this month, if the money for the pedestal comes in, two flatbed trucks will haul the sculpture from Russell’s studio in California. Russell will come to Lansing twice to work on the installation. (Installation is included in his fee.) First, Russell will supervise the pouring of the concrete footings. About two weeks later, after the concrete has cured, he will return to bolt the sculpture in place and make any needed adjustments.

Donations for the pedestal of James T. Russell’s ‘Inspiration’ should be made out to the Lansing 150 Foundation.
Send checks to Tim Adams at Maner Costerisan, 2425 E. Grand River Ave., Suite 1, Lansing, MI 48912
For more information, call Tim Adams at (517) 323-7500