Celebrating Muskegon draws support, criticism

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A sculpture going up in Muskegon’s Pere Marquette Park called Celebrating Muskegon does not have everyone celebrating. 

Many have voiced concerns over the project, displeased with both the city’s decision to select artists from out of state and also the price tag they’re asking the public to foot. 

It’ll cost roughly $100,000. The city says they need help from the public to pay for $50,000. The rest will be matched by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. 

The fundraising effort is held on the site Patronicity. Thursday 49 donors had given more than $14,000 towards the 50,000 goal. 

The sculpture itself, a 22-foot mixed steel, glass and LED sculpture will be placed within the newly installed roundabout at the intersection of Beach Street and Lakeshore Drive. An area which greets thousands of tourists and locals annually. 

The sculptors themselves, from Bakersfield, North Carolina happened to be tourists themselves years ago.

“We have been in love with Lake Michigan since we were kids, sculptors Kate Vogel and John Littleton said. “It was pretty overwhelming to see the shots of the area. As the traffic circle was starting to get finished in the construction, we were both like, oh my gosh, this is so spectacular. It’s an even more beautiful location than we could have ever imagined.”

Many took their frustrations over the project to social media, namely Facebook. With comments like “no thank you, not needed and beautiful as is. 

City Business Development Manager Dave Alexander can empathize with those feelings. After all the lakeshore community is his home too.

“There’s a real sense of ownership of the neighborhood and of this community. Not only in the city but throughout the county for Pere Marquette Park,” Alexander said. “When you change history, something historic, it becomes uncomfortable. And there is some uncomfortableness because of the changes that are taking place at Pere Marquette Park.”

Artists Littleton and Vogel hope the change they’re helping build won’t detract from the natural beauty, only enhance it and bring honor to the city and its members. 

“I would hope that we will honor both the city of Muskegon and the environment there. We will create something so beautiful for them that they will feel that us being there is honoring them because that sculpture will find a home there and it’ll be part of Muskegon. It will be their sculpture,” Littleton and Vogel said. “When we create anything. Whether it stays, you know, in our backyard or whether it goes to someone on the other side of the world, our hope is that it will bring beauty and joy to those people who live with it. And that, you know, that’s what we really hope that this will do for Muskegon.”

The decision to select these sculptors from a pool of 20 others, had nothing to do with them per say, but everything to do with the art itself said Judith Hayner, the project director of the Muskegon City Public Art Initiative.

“In the process of evaluating those artists, our committee does a blind judging, “Hayner explained. “It’s not about the artists. It’s about the art.”

Though Littleton and Vogel call North Carolina home, they pair are no strangers to the Muskegon area. They have pieces in the permanent collection to the Muskegon Museum of Art. 

“I was aware of their work in public art before because of my experience at the art museum too,” Hayner said. “I think the lakeshore is the perfect location for that sculpture. I think the color, the lighting of it, the airiness of it. I just think it fits in to that landscape very well and I think it does highlight the character and resiliency of Muskegon.”

It’s a project Alexander believes the city may learn to love. 

“It will be part of our pride of our community and showing off our communities, one of its greatest assets which is our Lake Michigan beach,” Alexander said. 

Celebrating Muskegon is the third in a series of 10 public art installations in the city of Muskegon under the Muskegon City Public Art Initiative. A generous donor gave $250,000 for 10 $25,000 grants to help kickstart the public art projects.

The previous two are Moxie and the downtown Mastodons on the Loose and the second, A City Built on Timber, will be installed at Heritage Landing Monday with dedication Tuesday, June 30.

Celebrating Muskegon will likely be installed by late fall, weather permitting.

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