Brightly colored murals, a giant keyhole and statues of animals playing musical instruments: there’s an abundance of public art around Columbia. The majority of these pieces were funded by the city’s Percent for Art program. Like similar funds in other cities, the program encourages large construction or renovation projects (those with budgets of $1 million or more) to include public art by covering 1 percent of their costs.
“I feel that living in a community that has a percent for the arts program is a wonderful thing,” local artist James Calvin says. He adds that Columbia values not only “the quantity of life but the quality of life.”
Keys to the City
Daniel Boone City Building — One of Columbia’s most recognizable pieces of public art is the large keyhole sculpture in front of the Daniel Boone City Building. The sculpture, officially titled Keys to the City, was created in 2010 by New Mexico artist Howard Meehan, who says his idea was to make “a true montage of the city’s characters and leaders.” When Meehan was first commissioned to do the project, he began brainstorming the design by exploring the city via bicycle and asking residents what they wanted from the sculpture. Meehan says he wanted to find what the city represented and demonstrate that through the piece.
Taking the Plunge
As you walk into the Activity and Recreation center, you’ll notice a large sculpture of a man diving into water. This sculpture, known as Taking the Plunge, was done by Seattle artist Norman Courtney in 2002. The piece was made using a variety of materials including sculpting foam, plexiglass, fiberglass silver-leaf and blown plastic. Buchheit says that the art is usually selected through a mix of the goals of the spaces, the desires of the department conducting the project and the experience of the artist. Courtney has done a total of 11 public works commissioned pieces according to his website.
Boone County Courthouse Square — This bronze sculpture, created as part of a collaboration between artists James Calvin and Andy Davis to celebrate community, depicts a band of various animals playing musical instruments. “We wanted to show diversity,” Calvin says, “and the notion of Columbia as a diverse community.” The duo worked a combined 80 hours a week for about a year to meet its deadline, ultimately finishing the project only two days before the unveiling ceremony in 1996. Despite the stress of completing the installment on time, Calvin says it was a positive experience all around.
Marathon Man and Marathon Woman
Two marathon runners, forever frozen in time, are now on display in Flat Branch Park. The two bronze sculptures were created by local artist Larry Young as part of a commission with First National Bank, according to Elise Buchheit, the program specialist for the city’s Office of Cultural affairs. Ironically, Young won two bronze medals in the Olympics for racewalking, making him the only American to have done so.
MKT Trail murals
Four murals along the trail — In addition to natural wonders seen on the MKT Trail, joggers, bikers and hikers can also find beautiful murals painted on the underpasses above the trail, such as at Elm Street or Stewart Road. Local artist Madeleine LeMieux has painted four murals along the trail since 2016. LeMieux says her Arts for Science mural, completed last October, has been her favorite so far. “I think it just ended up being a really beautiful project,” LeMieux says. In addition to her work in Columbia, LeMieux has also created murals in Chicago, New Mexico and New York City. Now she’s planning on painting another four murals in Columbia before the end of 2019.
Look Out Point
Rising above Stephens Lake Park is a series of 12 ascending clay columns known as Look Out Point. The first column stands at 1 foot tall, and each progressive column is one foot taller than the last with the final columning coming in at 12 feet tall. Carol Fleming, the artist behind the piece, says the columns would have been even bigger, but the budget didn’t allow for it. One ceramic column could take up to a month to create form, dry, glaze and fire. Fleming says she encourages people to interact with the shorter columns since they are more durable pieces but to also respect the art.
13 in the downtown area — Since 2007, the Office of Public Affairs has selected local artists to paint downtown traffic signal boxes, which house the computing systems that control traffic lights, as a way to reduce graffiti and create works of art. “You could pass by those traffic boxes 100 times before you realize there’s art on them,” says local author and artist Amanda Harms. She is the artist behind the traffic box painting at the intersection of Seventh and Cherry streets, which depicts a train on the MKT line.
There are two new projects currently in the works as part of the Percent for Art Program, with one being a sculpture for the new police substation on Range Line Street, and the other being integrated into the design of the new fieldhouse at A. Perry Philips Park. These are the first Percent for Art projects commissioned since 2013, according to Buchheit.