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Amherst arts group buys Portal sculpture for permanent display

AMHERST — A metal sculpture that has been part of Kendrick Park for nearly four years will be a permanent art installation.

The Amherst Public Arts Commission raised $10,000 to buy the piece known as Portal from Easthampton artist Matt Evald Johnson who created it for the inaugural Amherst Biennial event in 2010. A public dedication ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.

“This is a significant acquisition for the town,” said commission chairman Rene Theberge. “This will now be a permanent work for people to enjoy at Kendrick Park.”

Besides private contributions, the commission received money from the Amherst Cultural Council, the Amherst Business Improvement District and the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce. A plaque will recognize the donors.

Theberge said the fundraising was completed a few months ago, but commission members wanted to get the plaque made and have the celebration during warm weather.

Johnson created the sculpture by transforming old snowplow blades into a large circular opening. It has been viewed as a symbolic gateway to downtown Amherst for people passing it heading south, while for those heading north it serves as a similar gateway to the University of Massachusetts, said Theberge.

Theberge said the art is used in different ways, with children sometimes try to climb on it and high school and college students throwing Frisbees through it.

And, Theberge said, there are others who dislike the sculpture, which is OK because “part of public arts is to get people to react.”

During the ceremony, there will be remarks by Johnson and former commission chairwoman Terry Rooney, who led the fundraising, along with the unveiling of the plaque.

Theberge said though Portal is a prominent part of the landscape, a lot of the public art commissioned over the years, whether in downtown or village centers, or even on the campuses of UMass, Amherst College and Hampshire College, is either hidden or not well known. Commission members are trying to create an online walking guide on the town website.

“We want to bring it back to people’s attention and solicit people’s feedback,” Theberge said.

The idea is that people would be able to use their smartphones to access the guide, get a map and photographs of the art, as well as descriptions of the pieces and details about the artists. Theberge said the map could be complete by early July.

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