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The five finalists being considered to sculpt the granite blocks at Main Street Square are touring the Hills this week, refining their ideas and absorbing this distinct place.

On Tuesday, the artists arrived by plane and car. On Wednesday, they toured the Black Hills, and today, they will drive to Pine Ridge.

The finalists gathered before a crowd of about 50 to introduce themselves to the public Wednesday evening.

The artists were selected from 88 applicants. Of those, 33 made it to the semi-final round. The finalists will return to Rapid City on Oct. 31 to make their final presentations for a chance to carve the 19 granite blocks and two pillars -- and at up to $2 million.

The finalists will get two expense-paid trips to Rapid City and $10,000 to come up with their final proposals.

Organizers hope to have an artist under contract by Jan. 1, 2013.

City leaders were impressed with the talent of the finalists and praised the chance to have such selection as unprecedented.

"It's something in the arts that, believe me, I have not seen before," said Dan Senftner, president of Destination Rapid City. "Here, we get an opportunity to see art in action. Here, we get an opportunity to see art in motion."

Mayor Sam Kooiker said he admired the artistic prowess of the finalists. The artist eventually chosen will carve the granite as a curious public watches.

"Main Street Square has already transformed our community, and now, we're looking at the transformation within the transformation," Kooiker said.

Destination Rapid City is privately funding the entire project. The group worked in conjunction with the Rapid City Arts Council to form the artist selection committee.

The artists praised the Black Hills and the beauty of the region.

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"It's so beautiful. I've been so inspired. The people here are so gracious. I've had a great time," said Yoshikawa Wright, a sculptor based out of Los Angeles.

Pat Wyss, a landscape architect and member of the selection committee, lauded the diversity of applicants.

"What I hoped was we would have a great mix of talent with this group, and we do. They each have their own style," Wyss said. "The committee is going to have a very difficult time choosing, and that's what we wanted.

The artists hinted that local talent looking for a start in stone sculpting might get a chance to work on the project.

"If you want to learn how to carve stone, come talk to me, because when we start this project, we're going to need some apprentices," said Andy Dufford, a Denver-based artist.

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Contact Aaron Orlowski at 484-7069 or aaron.orlowski@rapidcityjournal.com

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