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Merriam City Council Narrowly Approves Caterpillar, Butterfly And Cairn Public Art Project

Joshua Wiener
Sculptor Joshua Wiener described his proposed sculpture as a 'playful exploration.'

Merriam City Council members on Monday approved a new public art project by a close vote of 5-4.

The sculpture, "Hmmm..." is designed by Colorado-based artist Joshua Wiener. A nine-foot tall caterpillar stands next to a 12-foot cairn, a stack of granite river boulders, with a butterfly perched on top. Weiner's proposal was selected by a resident-led arts committee that reviewed 45 submissions. 

Council members had not been able to come to a consensus about the piece last month. This time, four members voted for the project: Al Frisby, Christine Evans Hands, Nancy Hupp, and Brian Knaff; and four voted against: Scott Diebold, David Neal, Bob Pape, and Robert Weems. Mayor Ken Sissom broke the tie and the project was approved. 

“Merriam’s public art program began as a way to enhance public spaces and create connections throughout the community," said Meredith Hauck, assistant city administrator and the staff liaison to the public art committee, adding that it's a "whimsical addition to the City's collection."

This marks the third project in the city's five-year public art program. One percent of the city’s general sales tax pays for the program's budget, which is about $110,000 a year. The first project was installed in 2016.

But, although some Merriam residents say they enjoy the artwork, not everyone is pleased with the vote's outcome — or the program.

Sam Matier attends the city council meetings, and sends out an email newsletter called "What's Happening in Merriam City Hall." He wrote to say that "ninety percent of the response I receive from my newsletter readers are negative on the past and future art sculpture." Metier argued that the remaining funds marked for art could be used for other purposes. 

Previous works include Christopher Weeds' "Planting the Seeds," three large, polished, stainless steel spheres in the Merriam Marketplace on Merriam Drive; and a collaboration between Dan Maginn from DRAW Architecture + Urban Design and composer Paul Rudy called "Still Time," a wind chime inside a limestone and steel tower at Johnson Drive and Merriam Lane.

Credit courtesy: DRAW
The first art project in Merriam's five-year program was 'Still Time,' installed in 2016.

Sculptor Joshua Wiener described "Hmmm..." as an "exploration of place-making and identity" involving cairns, or stacked rocks, which are often used to mark a trail or a place.

"I found humor in the juxtaposition of the cairn with a similar looking caterpillar," Wiener wrote in his proposal for the project. "The puzzled caterpillar is looking at the cairn as another caterpillar." 

"Hmmm..." is slated for installation in the spring of 2019 in downtown Merriam near Waterfall Park. 

The arts committee on Monday also proposed sites for the final two projects, one near the entrance to City Hall and one in coordination with the city's new community center.

Editor's note: This post was update to include a Merriam resident's comments.

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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