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KENT: Who does public art belong to?

KENT: Who does public art belong to?

If there’s one thing people in the arts are protective of, it’s creative control. Actors, writers, artists -- it’s all about maintaining the freedom to bring forth their vision, especially those at the top of their craft.

Having some stranger come by and put their two-cents in on the inspiration process isn’t generally a goal.

I mean, just imagine you’re walking down the street in Rome. It’s 1508. The sun is shining, there’s a hint of freshly baked bread on the cool Mediterranean breeze, you turn the corner off a pastel-colored piazza and come face-to-face with … Michelangelo.

“Buongiorno!” hails the artist. “Excuse me, but I’m wondering if you could help me out? I’ve just received a commission to do this great art project … painting a ceiling for the pope. I have a few ideas myself, but how do you see it?”

Yeah, that would happen.

Well, actually, a modern-day equivalent did occur recently and in South Dakota.

World-class Japanese sculptor Masayuki Nagase, the artist chosen to create the country’s largest privately-funded public art project at Rapid City’s Main Street Square, decided to ask for assistance in the creative process.

In fact, he spent a week hosting public workshops at the local library, a senior citizens center, The Dahl Arts Center, trekking up to Spearfish and down to the Pine Ridge Reservation with one purpose: gather input from the West River community on what they’d like to see included in the $2 million sculptures he’ll be working on for the next three to five years.

Nagase’s reasoning was simple. Main Street Square belongs to the community, so the community should share in the artist’s design. For just as the Square is theirs, so, too, is the sculpture he’ll carve there.

Beginning in July, Nagase will take his 40 years of sculpting expertise and -- aided by suggestions from the 600 people who attended his public workshops -- create a work of art he’s calling “Passage of Wind and Water.”

His concept is to fashion abstract images of wind and water, the movement of humans and nature across time and the geological and cultural history of the Black Hills and the Badlands. All within the confines of the 21 blocks of granite that border Main Street Square. Right … no easy task.

Nagase is up for it, though and, perhaps equally as important, his growing fan base feels he’s up for it, too.

I had the opportunity to attend several of Masayuki’s workshops and visited with quite a number of those attending. Their comments ranged from, “I’m excited to see what he does” to “I trust him … I think he’s going to do a great job.”

Although everyone I spoke to was impressed and grateful that Nagase honored them by asking for their input, Mary Bordeaux was particularly grateful that the artist traveled to Pine Ridge to understand the Lakota perspective on land that was -- and still is -- sacred to them.

It’ll be five months before Nagase returns to begin work on the Main Street Square art project.

Just remember, when he makes that first strike on a granite slab in downtown Rapid, Yuki’s vision becomes your art.

Jim Kent lives in Hot Springs. Write to The opinions expressed by this freelance columnist are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rapid City Journal.

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