While the positioning of humanoid figures in Blue Human Condition made a lot of noise in Adrian, another twelve communities are quietly installing new outdoor sculptures—without the controversy—as part of the Midwest Sculpture Initiative (MSI).
Ken Thompson, owner and operator of Flatlanders Sculpture Supply and Art Galleries in Blissfield, MI, is the impetus behind MSI and is overseeing the art installations in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. “All of these are underserved communities,” Thompson explains. “They don’t have arts agencies or annual budgets, but they do have a desire to present art experiences.”
In early 2014, MSI collected submissions in an open call that attracted more than 700 entries from artists as distant as Georgia and Iowa. Although Thompson provides installation services, maintenance and help with media promotions for each of the thirteen sites, he is not the curator. Communities chose their own sculptures so the art reflects the personality of each town, he said. “We put people into the art,” Thompson says of these public displays. “It’s so accessible, people who would never get past the façade of a museum simply bump into these pieces and view them—and admission is free.”
Thompson’s enthusiasm for sculpture hasn’t waned in thirty years. He claims, “The first time I worked in stone, back in college, I knew I’d do this the rest of my life.” To date, Thompson has fifty-two large scale sculptures in public spaces including Toledo’s Peace Arch in honor of Vietnam War Veterans, Sylvania’s Centennial Arch and Detroit’s Reclamation Archway. “That's not counting private collections,” he adds.
Creating outdoor galleries
When asked about the inception of MSI, Thompson says the reason was well intentioned although somewhat self-serving. In 2004, he teamed up with local art guru and curator Peggy Grant. “She began marketing outdoor sculptures to area communities in the Midwest and I was the nuts and bolts, installing them,” he says. By creating a demand for outdoor sculptures, he helped create opportunities for his and other artists' sculptures to be displayed. And since he had the equipment and experience, he was ensured a steady stream of installation work. The concept was shaped into a marketable package, and artists enthusiastically supported the program because it provided tremendous exposure for their work, and paid well. Sculptors receive a stipend per installation (last spring, one local artist earned over $10,000 just on stipends) and they receive the sale price of pieces sold during an exhibition. As the interest in community sculpture gardens grew, so did MSI's reputation. But as Grant's health began to wane, she encouraged Thompson to continue the project without her. As only one part of his business he keeps a rein on how much time he spends on MSI. While thirty two communities had expressed interest in the public sculpture program, for example, he limited it to 13 for the 2014-15 season.
MSI is operated out of Blissfield, MI at Flatlanders Sculpture Supply and Art Galleries, 11993 US 223, which is also Thompson's studio. The cavernous building, which once held a Ford dealership, now serves as Thompson’s studio and a thriving foundry, a fabrication shop and installation company. In the yard, sculptures wait for installation for the public soon to enjoy. The closest locations for Toledoans to view Midwest Sculpture Initiative’s exhibits include the University of Toledo campus, downtown Tecumseh, MI and in Adrian, MI. The exhibits will run through April, 2015. A complete list of all sculpture sites may be found at msiscultpure.com.