Memphis pays $300,000 for Giro, public art created in California

Memphis pays $300,000 for Giro, public art created in California

The city of Memphis is paying a California-based company $300,000 to create a 103-foot-tall sculpture, which is meant to give the illusion of rotating fins as people drive by.

It’s likely the project, called Giro, would sit near the front entrance to the Memphis International Airport, said Lauren Kennedy, executive director of the Memphis UrbanArt Commission.

Commission members signed off on the sculpture and chose the Los Angeles-based Electroland firm to create it.

DEPARTURE: A flight on its way out of the Memphis International Airport (photo courtesy of the Memphis International Airport's Facebook page).

DEPARTURE: A flight on its way out of the Memphis International Airport (photo courtesy of the Memphis International Airport’s Facebook page).

As reported, this is not the first time officials in Tennessee have given public money — in this case bonds backed by taxpayers — to an out-of-state artist to create public art.

Kennedy said city officials are contracting the sculpture to someone outside Tennessee for a reason.

“We feel it’s important to also have a dialogue with artist communities across the country,” Kennedy said.

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“It can be an enriching experience to have artists from elsewhere come here and make work and interact with our local folks and go home and be able to talk about that experience.”

Yet city officials require that 60 percent of the artists getting money from UrbanArt are local to Memphis or Tennessee, Kennedy said.

City officials fund UrbanArt through the Percent for Art program, modeled after something Philadelphia started in 1959. An oversight committee meets monthly to approve all city-funded art projects, Kennedy said.

No one at Electroland responded to a request for comment Monday or Tuesday.

WRCBTV of Memphis describes Giro as “a towering red and white cylindrical sculpture.”

The Memphis Commercial Appeal, meanwhile, reported Electroland was one of three firms that competed for the right to create the sculpture. The paper did not say who the other two firms were or where they were located.

Lauren Kennedy (photo courtesy of Memphis UrbanArt's website)

Lauren Kennedy (photo courtesy of Memphis UrbanArt’s website)

As Tennessee Watchdog reported, Nashville officials paid $300,000 this year for an exhibit commemorating the Civil Rights movement, but the artist lived some 2,000 miles away in Oakland, California.

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Tennessee Tax Revolt President Ben Cunningham, no fan of taxpayer-subsidized art, said at the time the $300,000 should recirculate around Nashville or in Tennessee.

Two years ago, Nashville taxpayers paid $750,000 so an abstract artist from California could construct large multi-colored sticks and place them partially upright near the Music City Center downtown.

Meanwhile, “Tool Fire,” built in 2013, consists of several shovels, rakes and pickaxes glued together and placed on display along the Shelby Bottoms Greenway.

For that project, the city paid an Alabama artist $30,000.

Nashville taxpayers also paid two Seattle artists $350,000 to create a sculpture at Nashville’s West Riverfront Park symbolizing the Cumberland River.

Another art project, “Ghost Ballet,” cost Nashville taxpayers $340,600. New York City artist Alice Aycock was responsible for that project.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org 

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