WESTERLY — United Theatre, Bricks and Murals, statues in Wilcox Park — just a few examples of art alive in the downtown area.
The fate of another piece — "Misquamicut," the 9½-foot sculpture in Rooney park adjacent to the Westerly Train Station, is being examined by the Town Council. Dedicated in 2004, the public art piece was originally three pieces of granite — pink, red and blue — from the quarries of Westerly surrounded by three bronze fish, symbols on the 1669 town seal, placed on a black marble base.
One of the granite pieces went missing about 10 years ago. It's unclear whether vandalism or structural malfunction was to blame. The Town Council recently reviewed a bid by Kameron Ghaffari, the local artist who was originally commissioned to create the sculpture, to repair his work and replace light fixtures surrounding it.
The job, which would include deinstallation, transport, restoration, reinstallation management, coordination, and oversight, and replacement of the lights will cost $17,700. Ghaffari hopes to get a green light from the council and complete the work for a summer unveiling to mark the sculpture's 16th anniversary.
The Town Council, on Monday, voted 5-2 to authorize Town Manager J. Mark Rooney to seek additional bids on the work and to present the project to the council when he delivers his proposed 2020-21 municipal budget in March. Rooney said it was possible the lighting portion of the project could cost less if the town's Public Works Department handles that part of the work.
Councilors William Aiello and Brain McCuin questioned the value of repairing the sculpture for $17,700.
"The thing has been like that for 10 years and no one is complaining," McCuin said.
Rooney said he hoped the question of what to do about the sculpture could be resolved.
"We just hope that we can finally put this project back to completion because its been an ongoing saga since I arrived," Rooney, who started his job in 2018, said.
The original development of the sculpture was the vision of the Westerly-Pawcatuck Joint Development Task Force. Town Councilor Sharon Ahern served as executive director of the task force. On Monday, Ahern said the sculpture and Rooney Park are part of a larger downtown effort that included trees planted in the memory of residents who donated to downtown revitilization efforts and had plaques with their loved ones' names installed along downtown sidewalks. The trees were eventually taken down due to problems with roots and other nuisances and many of the plaques removed during sidewalk repairs. Many of the "memory park" donors have asked why the town has not established another way to honor their loved ones.
"I do think we need to analyze the issue because it's part of a bigger picture," Ahern said Monday.
Whether the sculpture is repaired or taken down, the town will face an expenditure because of the weight of the granite pieces. On Friday, Ahern noted that erection of the sculpture required the use of a special crane.
The sculpture sits prominently in the Westerly arts and entertainment district, a designation established in state law as an economic development tool to encourage artists to live and work in the downtown area.
"There is a lot of public art going on in Westerly — galleries and sculpture, the United Theatre, Bricks and Murals, the Harmony Trail. It enhances who we are and established Westerly as a destination and center for the arts," said Arlene Piacquadio, president of the Artists' Cooperative Gallery of Westerly, Friday.
Piacquadio, who also serves on the Westerly Regional Arts Partnership and worked on both the Bricks and Murals and Harmony Trail public music instrument installation, said she favors efforts to repair the "Misquamicut" sculpture. She suggested conducting a fundraising event or seeking grants as a way to address the cost of fixing the piece.
"I hope it gets fixed and I hope Westerly continues to be a place for the arts. It helps the community and it helps the downtown businesses to survive," she said.
The sculpture was originally paid for with a $25,000 donation from the state Department of Transportation, a $12,500 donation from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and a $12,500 matching grant from the task force.