Inspiration for a Public Art Project

On Highway 50 in Nevada there is a giant cottonwood tree draped with hundreds of pairs of shoes. In Paris, the gravestone of Oscar Wilde is now protected by a glass barrier, after decades of loving vandals wore away at the stone by marking it with lipsticked kisses. In Death Valley National Park, 20 miles down an unpaved road, travelers from around the world leave tea kettles with notes written for no one in particular on a sign for “Teakettle Junction”.

It is part of the human compulsion to communicate that drives us to leave a small mark on the world in the same place and in the same way that others have. To add our gum to a brick wall in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. To stand with a lover and attach a signed padlock to a bridge in Paris. To add our voice to a conversation with countless others; people we may never meet but with whom we share this one thing in common. To say “I was here, and I am part of this thing that is bigger than me”.

Sphere - A Public Art Project in Eureka Springs Arkansas

In 2013, Jeremy Mason McGraw and Robert R. Norman started a conversation that took the shape of a sphere in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

The Sphere was Robert’s idea, which Jeremy produced as part of a series of Creative Energy Projects. Robert – a local artist, woodworker, and furniture designer – was inspired by the culture of participation that’s encouraged by the artists and community at Burning Man. In Robert’s words, “If you’re not participating, you’re not really there.” Robert wanted to create a public art project in Eureka Springs that invited people to participate; that was built from the contributions of many individual voices.

In Robert’s words, “If you’re not participating, you’re not really there.” Robert wanted to create a public art project in Eureka Springs that invited people to participate; that was built from the contributions of many individual voices.

The sticks used for the Sphere were harvested from the Eureka Springs area, and then sanded and painted by Robert and his wife, Suzanne. Jeremy and Robert hosted stick signing parties at schools, bars, and parks around the city, where they invited people to write whatever came to them. Robert worked with artist Jim Wallace to build a six-foot metal framework for the Sphere, while Jeremy created and implemented a social media marketing strategy, secured funding, permits, and city permissions, and worked to drive community engagement. Finally, the sticks were attached to the framework, and the Sphere was installed at Basin Park.

A Public Art Connection

The final project was an extraordinary thing. From a distance, it was a single, coherent structure, but as you came closer, each part of the whole became visible. Each of the hundreds of individual voices spoke, the vast majority whispering a message of love. Together, the voices said, “I am part of this thing that is bigger than me”. At night, the Sphere took on an even more magical quality as it shone with phosphorous paint, lit by an internally mounted black light.

Hundreds of people attended Sphere Ultraviolet, the event organized by Jeremy to celebrate the installation of the Sphere. The project received state-wide media attention in Arkansas and Missouri, and both Jeremy and Robert were named Artists of the Year by the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce in recognition of their work. Most importantly, the Sphere captured the imagination of the city. It reached out to residents and tourists, and invited them to participate, to add their voice to a conversation unique to Eureka Springs.

Sphere is now recognized by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program; an organization that identifies, evaluates, registers, and preserves the state’s historic and cultural resources.

Eureka Springs Arkansas - Sphere - Public Art Project Teaser Video from 2013

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