If you’re superstitious, you may avoid the number 13. Unlike many, Hutchinson native Les Kouba embraced it, making it his artistic trademark. He always included 13 of something in his paintings, whether it be ducks, pheasants or geese.
Like Kouba, the Hutchinson Public Arts Commission has embraced the “lucky” number with 13 statues featured in the eighth annual Hutchinson Sculpture Stroll. This is a change from last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic limited the number of participating artists and resulted in the commission keeping several art works to display for a second year.
So what’s new? In addition to a new slate of sculptures for the 2021-22 stroll, there are four new block locations on Main Street. The sites are designed to display smaller sculptures.
Another new feature this year is the Hutchinson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism’s new QR code. It is displayed on all the sculptures and it will take you to a webpage with the sculpture stroll information.
To learn more, Steve Cook, chair of the arts commission, participated in this Leader Q&A:
There are 13 sculptures this year, that is up from past years. Why the increase in numbers through the years?
We purposely started small with six pads to keep things manageable since this was going to be a new program and it would take some time to understand the best way to reach artists and build awareness of the program. However, if things went well, we hoped to add additional pieces because public art provides a human element to our public spaces, adds interest and compliments the landscaping and natural features of our parks.
Plus, this was also going to be a way to help draw people downtown and to the community. Having more rotating pieces in the sculpture stroll, in addition to our permanent pieces of public art, increases the draw.
This year we are adding art at four downtown intersections. These will add a streetscaping element to the recently completed Main Street project and take the place of the pillar project that didn’t work out due to cost. We are excited about these locations because of their downtown visibility, but also because we can display smaller sculptures in a surrounding that is scaled better to their size.
As time goes on, do you have more artists responding to the Public Arts Commission Call for Entries? If so, why?
We have been getting around 50 entries from 35 to 40 artists the past several years — some new artists and many repeat applicants. Besides the call for art, we also send out information to regional arts boards and send emails to artists in the database that we have been building. I think we have a good reputation with artists and the word is getting out there. Our location also provides a convenient stop for artists who have displayed pieces in other sculpture walks in the region.
What criteria do you use in selecting sculptures each year? Does it change?
The members of the public art commission make the selections each year for the 11 city locations, and Citizens Bank and Ridgewater staff choose their pieces. The arts commission doesn’t have set criteria, but in general the commission looks for a variety of art — abstract to classical and different media. We also want to bring in new artists, and we think about our different audiences and the locations.
With so many entries it can be difficult to narrow it down, but the great thing about the sculpture stroll is that the art changes each year, and if a piece isn’t selected one year, there is an opportunity to bring it to Hutchinson another year.
How do you determine where new sculptures will be placed within the city?
There is a fair amount of discussion about that. Some pieces have natural locations like “Eggspert” by the library, “The Farmer” at the depot/farmer’s market or “Biker” along the trail. Otherwise, we think about how pieces fit size-wise, the surroundings, and possible connections with different audiences, such as children.
Will there be a People’s Choice Award this year? If so, what is the stipend for the winner? When will people vote?
Yes, there will be. As in previous years the winner will receive a $500 cash award. Votes will be accepted during the month of September and voting can be done online on the public arts website at hutchisonpublicarts.com/peoples-choice-ballot/ or by paper ballot at city hall.
People are talking more and more about “cultural tourism.” Do you see the sculpture stroll as a draw to Hutchinson? If so, why?
I believe it can be, especially now that we have more sculptures on display and the added locations downtown. I know people have come from out of town to see the sculptures, but we have no way of tracking that. However, to help raise awareness to visitors we give copies of the brochure to local motels and the Chamber of Commerce.
It has been interesting, though, to see how the sculptures get worked into different stories about Hutchinson in various media. For example, the “Humpty Dumpty” by the library got mentioned in a story in the Star Tribune last year.
The sculptures have also been mentioned in several stories about the Luce Line State Trail in the Minnesota Trails magazine. Mikah Meyer, who was running across the state last fall and stayed in the campground, also mentioned them in his interview in the Leader. The point is they get noticed and they make a positive impression.
Anything else you would like to add?
If people want to support the public art program, there are a variety of ways that can be done through sculpture purchases, financial donations or serving on the public arts commission. More information can be found at hutchinsonpublicarts.com/support/.
Finally, I was putting out some brochures by a sculpture one afternoon and a young man came by and asked about the piece. After talking briefly, he said “I’m happy that this (the sculpture stroll) is done; it does nothing but make the community better.” That sums it up pretty well.