Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.
The installation of public art is almost always controversial. From the people of Paris protesting the “hulking metal beast crouched on all fours,” which we know today as the Eiffel Tower, to the Sistine Chapel frescoes which depict everything from God being a figment of imagination and homosexuals in heaven to a cardinal being depicted getting assaulted in hell.
So, the controversy surrounding the new resident chuckwalla in downtown Kingman doesn’t come as a surprise. With art comes protests.
Of course, most citizens wonder why we would spend $10,000 on a metal lizard. That is money that could be used to fix the roads or help pay back the money Diane Richards embezzled from the City. Surely $10K could be put to better use.
See, the $10,000 was specifically set aside in the City budget for public art. That money was earmarked for art and art only. Lizard or no lizard, that money would not have gone into road upkeep. Which could potentially play into why City Council didn’t give the job to a local artist. People in this community wouldn’t produce a piece of that price, and if they had, more likely than not, they would have simply donated it to the City, like the Running Rabbit.
However, a budget earmark isn’t the only reason to rally behind this piece of public art. According to the Public Health Post, studies are increasingly demonstrating the concrete, positive health benefits of public art. Art can increase community members’ sense of identity and belonging, which reduces isolation and negative mental and emotional health outcomes.
Art can also improve neighborhood safety, decrease stress, elicit awe, reinforce self-efficacy and promote positive health behaviors.
Not to mention tourism. Sure, our Running Rabbit and the chuckwalla are no Eiffel Tower or Sistine Chapel, but they have the capacity to be part of our community identity. About 65 percent of American travelers say they include cultural, arts, heritage or historic activities while on trips. This, according to a 2001 National Travel Survey, would equate to 92.7 million people. With the increase of tourism activity, and more disposable income being used for experiences instead of material objects, that number has surely gone up in 17 years.
Those statues are the kinds of fodder tourists love. Taking a selfie on the back of the lizard or running alongside the rabbit, that is the kind of stuff that circulates on social media. We should embrace #kingmanaz and try to make our name synonymous with interactive art.
Angry Kingmanites have criticized the chuckwalla much like eminent artists criticized the Eiffel Tower. Guy de Maupassant – considered the father of the modern short story – and Alexandre Dumas – author of “Three Muskeeters,” “Count of Monte Cristo,” and “The Man in the Iron Mask,” to name a few – were among those that signed an angry letter to the minister of public works in Paris. “We protest with all our strength the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is without doubt the dishonour of Paris. Everyone feels it, everyone says it, everyone is profoundly saddened by it.”
After it finally opened and became a huge hit, de Maupassant was the only artist still opposed. He hated it so much that he often ate lunch in the tower’s second-floor restaurant, which was the only point in the city where he couldn’t see “this tall skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant and disgraceful skeleton.”
Don’t let bias cloud judgement and make it hard to see the potential a piece like the chuckwalla can bring to Kingman.
Whether or not someone walking by thinks the Running Rabbit is an “atrocity” or “hideous” or even if the chuckwalla is “just an unimpressive hunk of metal,” public art has a real community benefit. Rather than bemoan the money spent, or lash out, we should instead encourage public art and the artists that make it.
This is our community and we should start showing some pride.