Lawrence goes about displaying art in a roundabout way

Art lovers have a new place to drive around -- and around and around -- to see art in the city.

City crews this week placed "The Mighty Steel Wedge," a sculpture of a steel wedge driven through a large rock, in the center of the recently completed roundabout at 19th Street and Barker Avenue.

It is the first time the city has used the center of the traffic devices as display space for art. But it might not be the last, city officials said Thursday.

"I know the (Lawrence) Arts Commission has a lot of pieces of art that they would like to place around town," said David Woosley, city traffic engineer. "The center of a roundabout is probably a good place for art, as long as it is a piece that you don't need to get up close to, because we don't want people walking across lanes of traffic to see it."

"Mighty Steel Wedge" was a sculpture that city officials received in 1998 for the Arts Commission's annual Downtown Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition. The sculpture was one of several that became "orphaned" when the artist -- in this case, Jason Lumetta -- didn't make arrangements to retrieve his work.

In September, the Arts Commission decided to seek city approval to place the sculpture in the roundabout's center. The city's six roundabouts have drawn criticism as difficult to navigate, and some concern was expressed to city commissioners that artwork may make it more difficult to see oncoming traffic.

Woosley said his office determined the art shouldn't create safety problems.

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Richard Gwin/Journal-World Photo

"The Mighty Steel Wedge," a sculpture from the 1998 annual Downtown Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, now adorns the center of the traffic circle at 19th Street and Barker Avenue. Other roundabouts also might become venues for public art, city officials say.

"You don't need to see traffic that is coming from the other side of the roundabout," Woosley said. "As long as you can see what's coming from your left, that's all you need for the roundabout to work properly."

Several residents in the neighborhood surrounding the roundabout approve of the new artwork.

Brad Kemp, 1846 Barker Ave., said he didn't think the sculpture created any traffic safety issues. He also thought it was an easy way for the public to see art and urged city commissioners to consider adding art at other roundabouts.

"I think it is a terrific thing to do," Kemp said.

Since 1998, five of the downtown sculptures have been donated to the city or abandoned by their artists. The Arts Commission has placed one at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds, will soon sell another as surplus property and is disposing of two others, including one titled "Endless Toilets," which was damaged beyond repair when rain water froze inside the toilet bowls.

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