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City waits and waits for 4th Ave. statue

City waits and waits for 4th Ave. statue

Artwork isn't done after nearly decade and $68,000 spent

  • Updated

Sometimes less is more.

Take the Fourth Avenue Underpass, where in 2003 the city awarded artist Melody Peters a $75,000 contract to produce two statues.

Nine years later, the city is still waiting for the statues, even though Peters has collected more than $68,000 in advance payments.

Although the city has since agreed to pay more - the cost is now up to $115,000 - the Transportation Department recently agreed to accept a single statue from Peters in an effort to salvage something from the contract.

Peters was selected to create two life-size sculptures to sit on 10-foot pedestals at the northwest corner of North Fourth Avenue and East Ninth Street. The contract was part of the public art for the underpass renovation.

The cost for two bronze, nude figures - one male, one female, in dance poses - was $75,000. The original due date was September 2006 so they could be installed for the opening of the underpass.

About a year later, design changes to the underpass project required the city to extend the due date for the sculptures to January 2009. Since the underpass design changes affected the sculptures, the artist asked to modify her proposal and for an extra $40,000. The city staff approved the changes.

Over time, the artist received four advance payments totaling more than $68,000. But the underpass eventually opened, with no sculptures.

Earlier this year, someone in the city's Procurement Department finally asked Peters why her art was never delivered.

After meeting with the artist the city amended her contract, reducing her obligation to one female figure, which is supposed to be installed by April 30, 2013. If she does that she'll receive the remaining $46,543.

Peters' contract includes penalties of $500 a month for late delivery, which the city has agreed to waive.

Jennifer Donofrio, the Transportation Department's lead planner and public art manager, said the city decided not to cancel the contract with Peters because it felt working with the artist was the best chance of receiving a piece of art, even if it meant accepting less than what was agreed upon.

"An initial investment was made, and we chose to get something from that investment," Donofrio wrote in an email. "Therefore, TDOT chose to work with the local Tucson artist and accommodate her personal issues in order to receive the artwork."

Donofrio said charging the artist damages that she couldn't afford to pay wouldn't serve the public, nor would it get the project completed any sooner.

Tucson Pima Arts Council's public art program manager Mary Ellen Wooten said requiring only one sculpture gives everyone involved the best chance of realizing a finished product. The arts council participated in selecting Peters as the winning bidder on the contract, and has remained involved.

"The artist has spent a lot of time. The city has spent a lot of effort. The arts council has made a lot of effort, and we all want an outcome," she said.

Councilman Steve Kozachik said these are the types of deals that confirm to the public the city is clueless when it comes to enforcing contracts.

Kozachik said he supports the city's policy of requiring that public art be part of construction projects. But he said there was no reason for the city to grant these exceptions when there are plenty of artists in town who could do the work.

"To give one person this sort of special treatment is simply unfair to all of the other artists who bid on the project way back in 2003 and who were not selected," he said. "The city should just cut its losses with this person and award this to a local artist who can perform. There are plenty of them in town who would love a contract to build the piece."

Artist difficulty

Peters said this project has been a profound struggle from the beginning.

"It's been absolutely horrible," she said.

With the price of materials skyrocketing and constant setbacks, Peters said she has lost money on the project and has been supporting herself by using up her retirement savings just to complete it.

"Even though it looks like I'm getting a lot of money, I am broke as a result," she said. "I am not trying to rip anyone off."

She attributes a major part of the delay to her armature, the steel framework a sculpture is built around. She said it often shifts when clay is applied, making it difficult to advance the project.

Her perfectionism has also complicated matters.

"What I'm doing is fine art and much public art is done by people who do it as quickly as they can and then move on to the next commission," she said. "I'm trying to get this right, and it's very, very difficult. I am trying to give the city its money's worth by not finishing it before it's done right."

While Peters acknowledges the delays have been difficult for some people to accept, she can't bring herself to submit a second-rate product to the city.

"It's the only honorable thing to do," she said. "People are saying, 'You've had enough time. You should have just moved it out and given it to us as it was.' But I can't do that because that isn't right."

She hopes to have the sculpture finished within the next few weeks so the foundry has enough time to complete the bronzing by the April 2013 deadline.

Donofrio said since this is the first time an artist has failed to deliver in such a significant manner, TDOT will review its public art program and its policies to minimize the chances of something similar happening again.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or

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