There you see it ... here you won't
GEOFF EDGERS STAFF WRITER
Published: July 25, 1999
The Raleigh Sports and Entertainment Arena, set to open this fall, is touted as the grandest athletic complex in North Carolina. At a cost of $154 million and rising, the home of the Triangle's first major league team, the Hurricanes, will have luxury suites, a 51,000-pound scoreboard and a terrazzo floor. There is, though, one way in which the stadium cannot compete, a feature that in the past might not even be expected of a sports hall. The state-of-the-art building won't have any art.
Art in an arena?
It's true, for most of the century, stadiums were about steel and concrete, obstructed view seating, outfield fences twisting into quirky corners. The Montreal Forum, Yankee Stadium and Boston Garden were artistic only in the nostalgic sense by which all classic Americana is measured. The Astroturfed domes that followed, the product of tight budgets and the post-World War II sports expansion boom, didn't have the charm or history, only function.
But today's arenas are a new breed, built with an eye on the hallowed ball fields, born out of the public and private partnerships required to raise enough money to do the job right. Which is why developers are being asked to look at more than what goes on between the boards, to consider amenities such as art in the master plan.
"This is not just about playing a game," says Kim Hawkins, an architect for Adelphia Coliseum, recently built in Nashville for the National Football League's Tennessee Titans. "These places are civic places and important contributors to the urban design of the city."
In Raleigh, there will be nothing like the industrial-themed sculptures found outside the Titans' new digs, the blown glass at the University of Wisconsin's Kohl Center or the 90-foot mural on the center field concourse at the Colorado Rockies' home in Denver. When it opens, the Sports and Entertainment Arena will be an art-free zone. "It's going to be a fairly generic big room," says John Coffey, curator at the North Carolina Museum of Art. "It would seem that if they're spending so many millions, for a relatively little percent of that budget they could have had an opportunity to do something really distinguished."
### No budget for art: For Dean Jordan, president of the Hurricanes' parent company, Gale Force Holdings, the art discussion begins and ends with dollars and cents. It doesn't matter that this is North Carolina, which has a rich tradition of funding the arts, from the birth of the art museum to the programs run by the North Carolina Arts Council. Jordan is in the hockey business.
"Getting the building open is our only priority," he says. "There's no money in the budget for art."
It's not as if anybody suggested hanging an Old Master from the rafters. Arena art could cost as little as $15,000, or 20 percent of what's being spent on the terrazzo floor. That's the price tag in Nashville, where Joe Sorci has turned sections of cranes and turbines into a series of steel mosaics that line a greenway leading up to the Titans' stadium.
The University of Wisconsin spent more, $140,000, to commission a piece from Dale Chihuly, the world renowned blown-glass artist, for its Kohl Center. The high end of an arena program is found in Seattle, where a $430 million stadium project, set for completion in 2002, includes $1.7 million for artwork. In March, 12 artists were selected to create pieces, from 6- to 7-foot tall aluminum heads inside the stadium arcade to a grid of 16 interlocking paintings of the mountains of Eastern Oregon.want to be a part of this, too,' " says Pablo Schugurensky, the project's art manager. "This is what we're doing for the stadium because the stadium is part of the fabric of the community."
In Raleigh, developers have had to deal with construction delays, budget squabbles and seemingly endless debate over the sale of the arena's name. Art has been so far from the discussions that it took two weeks for Curt Williams, executive director of the Centennial Authority, to even figure out whether there would be any in the arena.
First, he wanted to check whether there had been state money provided. No, since the state-run public art program had been eliminated by the Legislature after several years. Then Williams suggested calling Gale Force, which he had heard might be putting in some sort of sculpture. Jordan put an end to that rumor. He talked only of "interactive" features planned for the building. A computer kiosk with statistics of National Hockey League players. Images and information on musicians playing the building. A program detailing sports history.
None of it addressed the spirit that has defined modern arena projects across the country, the idea of building a cultural landmark, not just a sports hall. That same spirit has led airports and shopping centers to add sculptures and paintings.
Officials at Raleigh-Durham International Airport have begun talks with the N.C. Arts Council about a project. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's new law school building, dean Judith Wegner raised money for an art program that will cost about $150,000. There will be stained glass in the central rotunda and 43 other pieces, including textiles, photography and mixed-media, in the building.
"Art can be put just about anywhere, especially if you look around the country and see what's being done," says Linda Dougherty, public art administrator for the Arts Council.
In Wisconsin, a small percentage of any public construction project has to be set aside for the arts. After receiving 34 proposals from artists, the University of Wisconsin chose Dale Chihuly, who also has a piece in Charlotte's new Museum of Craft + Design.
"A lot of people come in and the first thing they expect to see is [school mascot] Bucky Badger," says John Finkler, a school spokesman. "They're kind of mystified when they see this artwork. But interestingly enough, we've had a lot of people come in and all they want to see is the glass."
### Once upon a time ...:
In the mid-'90s, before the construction delays, even before the Hartford Whalers decided to head South, there was an art plan for what was then termed the N.C. State University Wolfpack's new arena. Larry Silverberg, an engineering professor at NCSU and a dedicated intramural basketball player, came up with a concept. Tapping into his fascination with the way athletes move, he wanted to install banners along the walkways surrounding the playing surface. Each banner would show a snapshot, different in time, of the same movement, the flags operating like a flip-book.
Silverberg looked around town for a potential artist for the project. One name kept coming up: Andrea Gomez. She had worked as an animator for 17 years. These days, as a painter, her work has continued to tell a story through the way her subjects move.
"The first thing that came to mind was the idea of being able to have the image of the figure and movement," Gomez says. "Then, the other thing is having the people participating in the art by walking through. They would sort of control how the figures moved and how fast they moved."
The idea, though, never reached Dean Jordan's desk. Silverberg called the N.C. Arts Council and the Centennial Authority. He received encouragement but no money. He was told that construction had been delayed and that, as of yet, no art had been decided on for the project. It was enough to slow him down.
"It's not as if anybody said no," Silverberg says. "I stopped pursuing it because I was told the contracts on art are worked out at the last minute."
Rory Parnell, who runs Raleigh Contemporary Gallery, tried to resurrect the proposal. A woman at the Centennial Authority suggested she call back in three months. When she did, she was told to call in another three months. Eventually, Parnell stopped calling.
Even if Silverberg or Parnell had been more persistent, it probably wouldn't have made a difference. Jordan says the money allocated for the arena has been spent on, for example, the $5 million scoreboard and $750,000 terrazzo floor.
"That's pretty nice," Curt Williams says. "The terrazzo people consider that art."
No paintings or sculptures are planned, no banner flip-book.
"It's not too late," says Coffey, the NCMA curator. "They can still do something. But knowing some of the people involved, I doubt anything's going to happen."