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Niagara Falls plans towering public sculpture

Niagara Falls will welcome its first major public art project in years this summer, when a towering new abstract sculpture by Indianapolis-based artist Jeff Laramore is installed on Centennial Circle.

The yet-to-be-fabricated piece, announced during a Niagara Falls City Council Meeting last week, was designed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty between the United States and Canada in 1909.

It features a 38-foot-tall vertical cascade painted aqua blue and vaguely suggestive of the falls, anchored by abstract versions of the American and Canadian flags – what Laramore called “a ribbon of water surrounded and protected by two great nations.” It will be illuminated at night by LED lights designed to create a lantern effect. It is slated to be installed by June in the center of the traffic circle at Third Street and Rainbow Boulevard.

“This is the first public art project of my administration, which to me is something of an embarrassment,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster. “I’ve looked with great envy on larger communities like Buffalo, with Shark Girl,” said Dyster, adding, half-jokingly, that he was “green with envy” over Shark Girl, the popular sculpture at Canalside, and its effect on Buffalo’s public image.

Dyster and his collaborators at the USA Niagara Development Corp., an arm of Empire State Development, were jealous enough of Shark Girl’s pearly whites to drop $435,000 on the project, $335,000 of which comes from a Niagara River Greenway grant, with the remaining $100,000 split evenly between Niagara Falls and USA Niagara. The Niagara River Greenway project is the result of a 2007 agreement that funnels profits from the Niagara Power Project to local communities along the Niagara River.

It’s all about improving the reputation and perception of the city using high-profile public art, an approach that has paid dividends for cities from Buffalo to Bangalore.

“Remaking our image is part of the reality of how you remake the economy, and frankly the sociology of the region,” Dyster said. “We’re trying to change the way people look at this place and part of the way you put your community’s identity on the line is public art.”

Laramore, who spoke to The News by phone from Florida, said he thinks the sculpture will bring a much-needed injection of color to the downtown streetscape and was optimistic about its potential to inspire more public art in the future.

“I think they’re ready for it and excited about it,” Laramore said of the people he spoke to during a recent visit to Niagara Falls. “I hope that this is an inspiration and that the community embraces it and wants to do more. That’s part of my job, as well.”

Laramore’s large-scale sculptures, typically abstract in nature, are on view in Virginia Beach, Va., Grand Rapids, Richardson, Texas, and his hometown of Indianapolis, which features at least a dozen of his pieces.

To help select an artist and organize the project, USA Niagara enlisted the help of Albright-Knox Art Gallery public art curator Aaron Ott, the man responsible for bringing “Shark Girl” to Western New York as well as many other high-profile projects. He said the city’s new embrace of public art bodes well for the region.

“I think that people see what is happening in Erie County and the City of Buffalo. They see the impact, they see the cultural value and the level of engagement and how that can elevate a community,” Ott said. “I think art is key to our regional resurgence and I think we will continue to see more public works being realized throughout Western New York.”