Tour to tout outdoor sculptures

For years, they have been a fixture in Lawrence -- close to a dozen sculptures in steel, iron, bronze or stone scattered through downtown.

Saturday, the Lawrence Arts Commission will officially unveil the 16th season of the city's Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition. Eight pieces from sculptors throughout the country are on loan to Lawrence for a year.

"It's a cornerstone project," said Michael Tubbs, city arts liaison. "It's probably the most visible show we do."

This year, a Lawrence sculptor, Myles Schachter, has his work "Digital Overload" displayed in a place of special honor -- right in front of the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

"To be selected (for a show) in any city would be a great thing," Schachter said. "To be selected in my hometown -- that they recognize that I have something to show or say is a great honor."

Schachter has it relatively easy. Living in Lawrence, the transport costs for his work of art were relatively minor. Other artists are not so lucky.

"The honorarium we give doesn't come close to covering the cost," said Jeff Ridgway, a member of the arts commission.

Shipping costs for the sculptures can be high, and some artists are accepted for the show from as far away as New York and Arizona.

"A lot of our artists actually drive them out themselves ... and then pick them up themselves a year later," Ridgway said.

This year, the show has eight pieces. The arts commission made the decision to reduce the number of sculptures from 12 to give a slightly larger honorarium -- $750 -- to each artist. If the show is to return to a dozen works, the commission will need more money.

"We haven't had a funding increase for a couple of years now," Ridgway said. "But I'm still going to keep asking."

With the city facing a $4 million shortfall, getting more money from City Hall could be a long shot. But Schachter, who also serves on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, said the funding increase should be approved.

"The community cannot, in tough times, withdraw support from those things that make it special," he said.

The exhibition is one of the oldest, continuous outdoor displays in the nation, and organizers hope the show's tradition will help its case before the city commissioners.

The juror who selected the eight sculptures on display this year will lead a guided tour of the pieces beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Jan Schall, curator of contemporary art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo., will share her insights about the pieces.

The tour, which is open to the public, will conclude at the arts center with a reception.

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