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Giant Ant Sculptures Invade Truckee

Why we need a public art plan
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(Editors Note: Linda Lindsay is a Moonshine Ink columnist.)

Did you know that a colony of eight giant ant sculptures is coming to the roundabout near the middle school at Prosser Dam Road and Highway 89 north? Each ant will be 4.5 feet long and 3.5 feet high, complete with bug eyes, a gaping maw of a mouth, pincers protruding from the face, and sharp spine-covered legs. If you had no clue, join the club.  

Prior to the ants’ approval at the Aug. 9 Town Council meeting, there was precious little public involvement in the process — no public outreach and no articles or photos in any local paper. (After the council approved the ants, Moonshine Ink did an online story about the project, Build Us an Anthill, published Aug. 23.)

Local resident Matt Parkhurst created the first ant and placed it on the roundabout because the mound looked “like an anthill.” Within a day, the Town removed the ant, and later received 11 comments pro-ant, and three against. Based on this minimal input by people who happened to see the ant during its one-day debut, the town engineer drew up a proposal for Parkhurst to make eight ants for $15,000, and got it approved at the Aug. 9 meeting.

Most residents thought the ant was gone. A done deal. Did you know that your first chance to view and comment on the ant was during its illegal debut on the roundabout? And that your second — and final — chance was at the Aug. 9 council meeting? Neither did many people, and they’re angry about it. This is an abysmally poor way for our town to choose art, and it’s leaving residents feeling duped and resentful.

Matt Parkhurst is an incredibly talented artist and, in my opinion, a creative genius. But the ants are so realistic, they’re creepy. They’d be absolutely perfect in front of a nature and science museum, but I don’t think they’re attractive for our roundabout. Why are we taking a barren mound and purposely turning it into a full-fledged anthill, crawling with oversized sci-fi insects? Why don’t we landscape the mound, and pay Mr. Parkhurst to create something more visually attractive? He’s certainly talented enough.

But the bigger issue here is the lack of a public art master plan in Truckee. Great examples exist in Ashland and Bend, Oregon, and Boise, Idaho — towns that involve the public in their public art. These towns put out a call to artists, describing the size and theme of the art piece sought. Artists submit their proposals, which are vetted by an advisory board, and displayed for public comment for a known, reasonable amount of time.

Truckee could do the same, but instead has adopted “opportunistic art,” which is art that happens to come their way. This is how the giant bike downtown came about, and how the musician sculpture in Brickelltown was chosen. The musician sculpture suddenly appeared, then was removed for a while. Was that brief debut period the only chance to comment? With no standard protocol for selecting, viewing, and commenting on art projects, everyone is in the dark.

One friend of mine liked the original ant. Her reaction? “I laughed my head off.” Is this the reaction we’re going for? A joke? Highway 89 north is a gateway for visitors entering our community. Is a colony of giant ants how we really want to represent Truckee? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Town receives backlash if, and when, the ants get installed.

I know that not everyone will like every piece of public art. But I think Truckee can do a better job of getting the community’s input in the process.

~ Linda Lindsay came to Tahoe in 1984 to check it out for a winter and never left. She lives in the Prosser area with her husband and two dogs.

 
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The Opinion Page is your place to spout off. This section contains letters to the editor and longer My Shot pieces. Also, the Spout features two bimonthly perspectives — In the Past, delving into Tahoe Truckee history, and In the Moment, an artistic musing of a moment today.

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September 14, 2017