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La Crosse Board: Riverside North offers community opportunities for public art

La Crosse Board: Riverside North offers community opportunities for public art


Riverside North offers the city’s arts community a chance to try something different, say representatives of the La Crosse Arts Board.

Arts board members went before the Redevelopment Authority Thursday to talk about ways to incorporate art into the plans for public spaces included in the development of city-owned land just north of downtown La Crosse.

“We wanted to take a look at the Arts Board’s overall mission and see how newly created space might be utilized in ways that honor that and honor its future use, dovetailing with wonderful development that is about to take place,” said arts board member Jennifer Williams.

The 65-acre property where the La Crosse, Black and Mississippi rivers meet includes about 15 acres of wetlands, much of which will be dedicated to recreation. The 35 acres of developable land adjacent to the wetlands is considered one of the last prime development areas in the city.

The city of La Crosse has marvelous public sculptures in its existing parks, said Williams, many of which are done in a very traditional — and permanent — style.

“But there is a trend in contemporary art for sculpture that isn’t necessarily quite so permanent, that may be a bit more innovative in terms of its materials and public interaction,” she said.

The board is considering looking into opportunities for sculpture that could be put up for a month or a season, then replaced the next year, similar to the Stevens Point Sculpture Park in Portage County, Wis., or Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York.

“We might be looking at artwork that would exist for a period of a few months or as long as 10 years, so that’s a really different way to look at sculpture. We think of bronze, we think of steel in public places, something that’s going to last,” Williams said.

She suggested it would be a good opportunity to get art students in La Crosse involved, as well as visiting and local artists.

Members of the Redevelopment Authority were enthusiastic about finding ways to bring art to the new neighborhood the city hopes to build, with committee member Karen Dunn saying she’s seen similar ideas succeed in other communities.

“I’ve seen a couple examples of what you’re talking about and it’s really neat. It really creates a lot of interest. It’s changing just like an art exhibit would, but outdoors in an almost living type of sculpture,” Dunn said.

Committee member John Kovari loved the idea, adding that a diversity of exhibits would be ideal, incorporating classical pieces with modern art.

“I don’t want to discount the bronze, traditional art that does exist,” Kovari said, adding, “The modern art does elicit that conversation. People love or hate this stuff, but people are talking about it and they’re mixing it up, and that is exactly the kind of urban thing we have.”

Blair Williams of Wired Properties, the city’s master developer for Riverside North, said it would be great to include interactive elements, similar to pieces found in a park just north of Soldier Field in Chicago.

“They are art unless you’re six years old and then they’re something to play with, and there’s something very dynamic about thinking of the value of a somewhat more permanent installation that has an interactivity built into it,” he said.

Urban environments have few planned spaces where kids can play, but combining it with art could make Riverside North a destination for families.

“We may not have place for playgrounds, but I bet we do have space to kind of lever the art identity into an experimental identity that could be really interesting. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity,” Williams said.

The city is already planning to add recreational paths to surround the wetlands and connect to existing city trails. Williams said built-in art would be a great way to incorporate the ideas talked about by the Arts Board.

“Art that you can catch between the trees, but only if you’ve gotten to the right place, and there are ways to make that almost like a treasure hunt,” he said.

Redevelopment Authority members also said that having a funding source for ongoing maintenance and operational costs would be vital as the project moves forward.

Jourdan Vian can be reached at or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.


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