MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The MuskegonCity Public Art Initiative has announced its next project to liven up the community — this time specifically focused on Muskegon Heights.
The next project is called “Band Together.” It will be a bronze sculpture created by Muskegon native Ari Norris depicting a Muskegon Heights drum major. “Band Together” will be installed at Rowan Park and is expected to be unveiled in October 2023.
The goal of the MuskegonCity Public Art Initiative, which launched in 2018, was to create 10 new unique works of public art around the city. Judy Hayner, the MCPAI project director, said there was always a plan to create a piece that was specifically for the Heights.
“The school is the heart of the (Muskegon Heights) community,” Hayner told News 8. “I’m really hoping that this project can be a spark and some inspiration for people in the Heights to be able to reflect on that history and those times.”
If the school is the symbol of the community, the band is one of the calling cards of the school. The school district opened in 1921 and had its first drum major in 1925. But it was longtime band director Robert Moore who helped cement the band’s legacy.
“Mr. Moore was the band director from 1971 to 2011. That is 40 years. It creates just remarkable consistency and stability and interesting leadership,” Hayner said. “Mr. Moore came out of a historically black university. He was a part of the high-stepping Florida A&M band. So, he did kind of bring that with him. But the most interesting thing that he said to me when I talked to him was that he said they had that style when he got there. He kind of refined it, but he said they were already ‘swinging and swaying’ when they were marching down the street.”
“Band Together” will stand approximately 12 feet high and sit on a three-foot pedestal. Norris has released a rendering of what the statue will look like, including a drum major leaning back in the traditional high-step pose and his baton held high in the air.
The sculpture will feature a throwback marching band uniform designed by Floyd Cook, Jr., in 1958. That was the year band director Albert Meerzo named Cook the band’s drum major, making him the first African American to hold that role at Muskegon Heights. Meerzo also asked Cook to design the uniform.
“That’s the uniform we’re using,” Hayner said. “Their most recent uniform is white, but we decided we would use the one that Cook designed.”
The statue will also include signage listing the Muskegon Heights drum majors, band directors and notable awards dating back to 1925, along with the names of major project donors.
The MCPAI is funded almost exclusively by private donations or grants. The program was launched with a $250,000 gift from Patrick O’Leary, the former chief financial officer for Sealed Power, allocating $25,000 for each project.
To date, the six completed projects have cost a little over $1 million. According to the MCPAI, 82% of the project’s funding comes from private donations. Another 14% comes from grants, including one from the Michigan Arts and Culture Council. The last 4% comes from city and county funding. Of the six completed works, four are sculptures and two are murals, including “Moxie the Mastodon” outside of the Lakeshore Museum Center and “Celebrating Muskegon,” a steel and glass installation at Pere Marquette Beach.
Anyone interested in donating to the MCPAI can do so through the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. You can give to the specific fund by designating the donation for the “Band Together Sculpture Fund.”
Norris is no stranger to Muskegon. The Reeths-Puffer graduate also took classes at Muskegon Community College before moving on to Northern Illinois University to finish his Fine Arts degree. He currently manages his own art foundry in Illinois. Norris also created the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” statue that sits outside of the LST 393 Veterans Museum.