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Stop and go on public art 

click to enlarge TALK OF THE TOWN: Public art display in NLR.
  • TALK OF THE TOWN: Public art display in NLR.

The Argenta public art project has been launched after many months in the planning, and, like all public art projects, it's generating some talk.

Inspired by like projects in Clayton, Mo., and Corpus Christi, a Main Street Argenta board decided to ask artists to paint the traffic control boxes at various intersections along Main, Poplar and Maple. A board committee invited people from the community, including Claire Haun, Joy Pennington, Mary Beth Bowman, Melody Stanley and Mike Marler, to sit as jurors. They looked at plans submitted by artists and chose four: Theresa Cates, Abby Carman, V.L. Cox and Elizabeth Weber. They will choose three more at some point. All the artists are donating their work and Farrell-Calhoun Co. donated the paint.

Cates is painting an orange, white and black stylized scene of African American women at church on the box at Main Street and Broadway. The box is 49 inches tall, with two sides 30 inches wide and two 18 inches wide. An image of her box posted on the argentanews.com blog moderated by Scott Miller last week generated an evenly divided positive-negative back and fourth. Detractors have criticized the quality of the work, objected to its religious theme, and questioned the manner in which the art was chosen. One blogger said getting artists to paint electrical boxes is no way to treat artists.

Mary Beth Bowman, who headed the project committee, said she thought the negative reaction was “so far out in left field I don't even get it.” She wondered whether there wasn't a racial element in the criticism, given that the debate was focused on just one box when two are in the works—the other by Abby Carman, who has begun painting the box at Broadway and Poplar. Hers features a guitar on one side and a palette on another.

Haun, a Katrina refugee who has been active on the arts scene since relocating to North Little Rock, thinks it's great that the art has generated such emotion (albeit by only eight bloggers). But she's concerned that one of them suggested that a solution for people who don't like the artwork would be to “tag” the boxes— paint over them surreptitiously— back to the original gray. “That borders on book burning,” she said.

Haun, Bowman and Main Street Argenta head Michael Drake point to the moderator of the blog— Miller— for stirring up opposition. They say Miller had posted a remark some weeks back threatening to deface the traffic control box in front of his business, at the Baker House, if it were painted. The remark drew the ire of the artist chosen to paint the box, Cates, and last week Cates was debating whether to stay involved in the project.

John Gaudin, who is building the Argenta Place mixed-use development at 301 Main St., likes Cates' work so well that he requested she paint the traffic box at his intersection rather than another designated for her. Cates has gotten several other compliments on her work as well, Bowman said.

Roland Mesnier, the entertaining former White House pastry chef who has made two popular appearances at Little Rock's 2007 and 2006 Literary Festivals, will return to Arkansas July 15 for a benefit for a horse rescue operation in the western part of the state, at Mena.

Mena Art Gallery at 607 Mena will host Mesnier's appearance for Horses of Proud Spirit, run by Melanie and Jim Bowles. Mesnier met Melanie Bowles at the most recent book festival and decided then he wanted to help. He'll talk and sign copies of his book, Dessert University.

The event starts at 4 p.m. For more information on the sanctuary, go to www.horsesofproudspirit.com.

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