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Barnum, Murray and Students Create Public Art

BIG RAPIDS – Ferris State University professor of Creative Arts Robert Barnum and associate professor of Welding Engineering Technology Dave Murray, along with their students, are making public art a reality in Mecosta County.

Through the Lantern Project, a public art initiative, the duo already have collaborated on the completion of four sculptures – the fourth of which was dedicated today (July 30) in downtown Big Rapids’ Pocket Park. “Visual Sound” in Pocket Park joins “Contemplation,” located at Big Rapids City Hall; “Healing Hands,” located at Mecosta County Medical Center; and the pair’s most recent collaboration unveiled in April – a 125th anniversary piece celebrating this milestone in Ferris’ history.

“Public art has not been done to this scale in Mecosta County,” Barnum explained. “The Lantern Project takes the good character and smart elements of Ferris State University’s Art Walk into Mecosta County to develop a major collection of art.”

Public perception can be that art is expensive to construct and taxing to maintain, Barnum added. “We’re here to prove them wrong.”

The Lantern Project will develop low-cost art that has zero maintenance and a long lifespan. The 11-foot tall “Visual Sound,” which includes a keyboard player and conductor, is dedicated to music and movement, and has a 300- to 500-year lifespan, he said.

“For years to come, this sculpture will elicit movement of the audience. The sculpture is static, but it’s a graphic impression of music; it’s up to the audience to fill in the gaps,” Barnum said.

Welding Engineering Technology junior Ed Weipert of Big Rapids said construction of “Visual Sound” was challenging but fun.

“I would definitely work on a project like this again,” Weipert said, noting creating art on such a large scale is not a typical venture in the Welding Lab.

Murray added projects such as these are great learning tools for students to understand the pressures of a real-life work environment. The students are working with expensive materials where mistakes can be costly and time management is important, he said.

“This is a learning process in which they are building something real,” Murray said. “The students also get to take pride in their work and find out how rewarding community service is.”

Two projects are already in the works for fall 2010, with a project goal of creating 15 pieces of public art in the next five years to be placed throughout Mecosta County, including Mecosta and Stanwood, among others, Barnum said. Construction will remain embedded as student classroom projects between Fine Arts and Welding Engineering Technology, with a new class in the works dedicated to these creations – Aesthetic Engineering.

All funding for the Lantern Project is through corporate support, partnerships and public individual assistance.