With the ground around it slowly settling, a public sculpture along the Santa Cruz River Park Trail was until recently at risk of eventually toppling over.
Faced with the choice of either taking the piece, a tall green-tiled arch with cactus sprouting from the top, out of public view or simply finding it a new home, local officials went with the latter.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the piece was dug out of its old spot and a deep hole was waiting for it a mile south on the west side of the river near North Bonita Avenue and West Congress Street.
“We’re not only trying to protect the artwork, but the city or county’s investment in the artwork, which is essentially the public’s investment in the artwork,” said Jeff DaCosta, the Tucson Pima Arts Council’s assistant public art manager.
The price tag for the original installation and another three plazas along the river was roughly $16,500 in the mid-1990s, according to records kept by DaCosta’s office. Moving the arch will cost $25,298, according to information provided by Tucson Parks and Recreation Director Fred Gray.
The new site is already home to work by the piece’s Tucson-based sculptor Barbara Grygutis, who has installed public art across the country. “It’s not a totally foreign object being placed there,” she said.
Grygutis also said it “sets a good precedent for the city preserving work that we’ve invested in.”
However, not all of its soon-to-be neighbors will be rolling out the red carpet.
Just across Bonita Avenue from the site, Manuel Gomez, a 57-year-old who lives in the modest single-story home he grew up in, laughs when he shares his nickname for the sculpture: “the half-Gumby,” referring to the green claymation children’s show star.
But rare is the universally loved or loathed piece of art. Just up the street from Gomez, Ryane Duffey said she had regularly walked past the arch, known as “Mesquite Plaza,” at its old location and thought it would bring some “positive energy” to the neighborhood. That comment drew nods from her boyfriend Andrew Nuñez.
More than aesthetics, what Gomez is upset about is that he and other neighbors were not consulted about the project, and neither was the Menlo Park Neighborhood Association.
He was also upset when he heard the project’s cost, and pointed to languishing trees in nearby Bonita Park as perhaps a more sensible problem to address with scarce city resources.
“There should have been some neighbor input,” he said. On the next block over, Melba Muñoz said there “definitely” should have been outreach, even though she likes the look of the sculpture.
Gray agrees, in “hindsight.”
“I apologize for that,” he said, adding later: “Lesson learned. Anything you do pretty much anywhere in proximity of a residence, you probably should let people know.”
“I am sorry we didn’t knock on their doors,” said Grygutis.
However, Nuñez and Duffey aren’t so sure an apology is in order. They both thought it was “funny” that there was any controversy at all about moving the arch.
Nuñez said he would just as soon not be advised when the city makes such decisions, adding: “They’re always doing work on the park, so then they’ll have to send us notices all of the time.”
Though there have been controversies surrounding public art in Tucson, such as moving several half-finished water-themed pieces from Mountain Avenue in the early 2000s after residents voiced opposition, Grygutis said the current project is a “totally different situation”
“I promise when it’s all installed it will look good,” she added.
But Duffey doesn’t think pleasing everyone ought to be the goal of public installations, noting that “good art should be controversial.”
Grygutis’ sculpture should be at its new home by the end of July, Gray said.