There’s a saying that well sums up public opinion here in Niagara Falls with regards to the new Boundary Waters “public art” sculpture that was installed at the Rainbow Blvd. traffic circle last week – “Americans don’t act, they react.”
“How could this happen?” people are now demanding of each other. “We didn’t know anything about this!”
“How can Mayor Dyster waste $619,000 on such an extravagance, while the city is suffering severe fiscal stress, raising taxes and eliminating police positions?”
“Why did the city council vote him the money in the first place?”
All questions that are being asked, albeit a little late.
The fact is, the Niagara Falls Reporter first alerted the public to Mayor Dyster’s spectacular boondoggle two years ago, back in January, 2016, a mere couple of weeks after artist Jeff Laramore of Indianapolis unveiled a model of his creation in front of the city council and other assorted well-wishers. And we’ve written about it at least a half dozen times since then.
Over those two years, we railed against its enormous price tag, which started at $435,000, was increased to $585,000 in July, 2016, and finally ballooned to $619,560 this fall, $84,560 of which was contributed by the city of Niagara Falls. $50,000 came from USA Niagara which, considering the millions that the city has thrown at the state agency over the years, may as well have come from us.
We pointed out how a “Public Art Curator” from Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery headed the search for the artist, all but ensuring that an expensive, out-of-state artist would be selected. Talk about a slap in the face to local artists.
This newspaper gave early warning to Niagara Falls residents that not only was the expensive sculpture to come from Indiana, it was by a sculptor who owns an ad agency that incorporates public sculpture as an ad agency service.
We presented the pros and cons as to the sculpture’s conformance to the Greenway Mission: Public access to the waterfront (NO), Improving and sustaining existing resources – parks, park facilities or natural features of the Niagara River Greenway area (NO), Maximization of Impact – projects that bring grants, private philanthropy or corporate partnerships (NO), Consistent with Master Plan (NO) and lastly, Capital improvements – projects to promote public awareness of the Greenway and its resources (Not really).
We made the argument that while Boundary Waters Treaty is portrayed as one of the first environmental accords in history, the result has been the environmental degradation of the Niagara River and the siphoning of the hydropower generated there away from local residents to users downstate or in other states. This historic treaty is not one to emulate or commemorate.
“Public art is explicitly referenced in the Greenway plan as something that contributes to the character of the Greenway,” Mayor Dyster told the Buffalo News. Other than an obscure reference on page 92 to “piece(s) of art” in the context of pre-existing attractions, there’s nothing in the Greenway plan that remotely refers to public art, sculpture or anything the mayor, a facile liar, is rambling about.
There is, however, in the Greenway plan, a photo of the Tesla sculpture on Goat Island, that could well have served as public art at the Rainbow Blvd. traffic circle. And it would have been free, not costing north of a half million dollars. Mayor Dyster, of course, refused to ask for the historic Tesla masterpiece, even after city council passed a resolution requesting that he do so.
It challenges the imagination that no site inspection took place prior to installation, given that the Boundary Waters piece weighs so much. That’s what necessitated going back to Greenway for another $150,000 last year, and additional $34,000 from the city recently – outcomes that would bankrupt the average private sector contractor were he or she stupid enough to overlook such basics.
Resembling the rib cage of some hapless dinosaur that died on the spot, then to suffer the indignity of having its bony framework spray painted by vandals, the Boundary Waters sculpture is, perhaps fortuitously, partially obscured by traffic signs, the only of Jeff Laramore’s works anywhere in the world that appears to be so compromised in its presentation.
For his $435,000, Jeff Laramore didn’t even cast the metal pieces or apply the outer coating of paint. He simply came up with the design. Nice work if you can get it.