photo by: Contributed rendering
While some questioned what message the artwork might convey, the City of Lawrence commissioners voted to approve the concept of a public art installation at the city’s new police headquarters.
At its Tuesday meeting, the committee voted 4-1, with opposition from Commissioner Lisa Larsen, to approve the design of the $ 340,000 project, which includes a metal pavilion with colored glass panels depicting eyes and light projections. While some have expressed concerns about the lack of public comment and potentially negative interpretations of the eyes, commissioners who voted to move forward have agreed that the art is ultimately in the eye of the beholder.
The piece is believed to relate to the nearby police headquarters, and artist Joe O’Connell told the commission the eyes were meant to communicate the idea of seeing someone’s point of view else.
“The main theme is empathy, understanding and seeing through people’s eyes,” O’Connell said.
Despite those intentions, Larsen said the eyes looked like surveillance or the idea of the police watching, to her, and she didn’t think that sent a good signal.
“I like the concept of what you’re trying to do; I just can’t get past this feeling of what the eyes mean, at least to me, and what I’ve heard from various members of the community, ”said Larsen.
Especially given the size of the project, Larsen said she would like the design concept to come back to the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission for more public comment.
The city held two virtual meetings on the design concept on June 26, but city spokesman Porter Arneill said they were not well attended. Arneill said that after an article was published by Journal-World, some people got in touch and he gave them O’Connell’s email address for comment.
Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said she had also heard comments that the article appeared to communicate police surveillance, and asked O’Connell if he made any changes to the concept based on the comments he had. received. He said some of the comments were aimed at making sure the eyes didn’t express emotions such as anger and looked down on people. In response, he said he expected the eyes to have empathetic expressions and look upwards.
The Arts Commission endorsed the concept at a meeting in July, and at the time, board member Denise Stone said she heard from someone who didn’t particularly like the eyes in light of the ongoing national conversation on policing and police reform. Arneill said on Tuesday that based on the arts commission’s recommendation, the artwork would have a QR code that links to a website providing more information about the project and its message of empathy.
Deputy Mayor Courtney Shipley said she liked the screening to illuminate an area with footpaths near the police station. She also said that she believes eyes can be interpreted the other way around and that her art gives her the opportunity to think critically.
“I think art is good when you can see it in different ways, so indeed you could say, ‘Oh, well, this is about surveillance’, but you can also say it’s to. About how accountable we are to each other, we all see each other, ”Shipley said. “And I guess you could even turn it over and say we’re monitoring the police.”
Commissioner Stuart Boley said he had heard concerns about the content as well as the cost of the project, and that he was also concerned about the level of public engagement.
Mayor Brad Finkeldei said that since there had already been several opportunities for the public to comment, he didn’t think referring him to the arts commission would result in additional comments. Ultimately, Finkeldei said he appreciated the concept sparked some discussion and was excited to move forward.
“I think in most cases the artwork is in the eye of the beholder, and I think it has the ability to spark conversation and also to spark pleasure,” Finkeldei said.