A new public art piece created by Omaha artist Therman Statom and students at Kanesville Alternative Learning Center in Council Bluffs was unveiled Tuesday morning after more than two years in the making.
A crane hoisted two heavy, pointy pieces of metal covered with swipes of blue, green, yellow and orange into place on the east side of the school next to a handful of other long, colorful pieces. Students who worked with Statom on the project stood across the street to watch.
They were impressed.
“It's going to look dope,” one student said to another.
The artwork, called “Building Bridges,” is a collaboration of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, the students and the Kanesville-Tinley neighborhood in Council Bluffs.
Statom, a renowned glass artist, spent several weeks at the Kanesville Alternative Learning Center as an artist-in-residence beginning in 2011. He led students through brainstorming sessions for the project that combined art history, technique, public art design, collaborative challenges and civic engagement. Statom used scale models the students created, along with the experiences from his residency, to create the piece.
Long, brightly colored panels of metal are mounted on the side of the brick school building. Some of them, wavy pieces in bright colors — one is hot pink — stand out at right angles from the metal pieces. Two free-standing sculptures, one mostly blue and another mostly yellow, will bookend a patio with seating.
Funding for the project comes from the Iowa West Foundation, the Pottawattamie County Community Foundation and private donors.
Holly Olson, Bemis' community arts program manager, said the project started out merely as a piece of public art at a busy intersection. But the students turned it into more than that.
“It became about a space for them to be,” she said. “They call it their 'chill zone.' ”
Students designed tiles that will be installed right into the concrete patio, Olson said.
Crystal Dressler, a 10th-grader at the school who worked on the project, said all the students submitted designs for tiles that they cut from pink Styrofoam. The chosen designs will be cut in glass and installed in the finished piece.
“My design is a heart with an infinity symbol inside,” Dressler said.
She said she liked the colors in the sculpture. “I think it's done very well.”
Jennifer Haney, the art teacher at the alternative school, said the students learned a lot from the project.
“They got to share their ideas with a local artist and see how their vision is upheld,” Haney said. “I think it gives them a sense of community and of pride.”
Olson said “Building Bridges” has done just that: It's created connections between Omaha and Council Bluffs, between students and Statom, and among the neighborhoods around the school.
“No one could have done this on their own,” she said.
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