City seeks grant for “artscape” project on School Avenue

A vehicle drives south on School Avenue along the proposed route of the “School Avenue Artscape” project.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

City officials have just put the finishing touches on an application to receive a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the design phase of a streetscape project that includes ecologically-themed public art and low-impact development stormwater facilities on School Avenue.

The idea, brought forth by Ward 2 Alderman Matthew Petty, is to create a public space with integrated art that connects two cornerstone cultural institutions in downtown Fayetteville – the Fayetteville Public Library and the Walton Arts Center.

The institutions are separated by a mere three blocks, but there is no contiguous sidewalk connecting the two.

Map of the proposed project area

Courtesy: UA Community Design Center

With the area serving as the primary entrance for visitors to downtown, it’s a great candidate for a retrofit, said Petty, whose overall goal is to build a pedestrian-oriented, “complete street” featuring public art.

“Building infrastructure that can also serve as art is a smart move for any city, and that’s what we will do if this project gets funded,” said Petty. “It’s a two-fer – or three-fer, given the state of the current sidewalks.”

Bookended by the library and arts center, the area contains a recently completed $1.5 million facility for local NPR affiliate KUAF 91.3 FM. The space is also home to the city’s largest public housing project, the 120-unit Hillcrest Towers Senior Center, whose residents currently have no ADA-compliant route to access the library, arts center, or the nearby entertainment district. Petty said a shared streetscape negotiating a challenging topography will directly impact their quality of life as well as others who live, work, and play downtown.

The design consultant for the project is the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, an award-winning team of students and professional staff located in downtown Fayetteville.

It’s also where Petty works as a part-time employee to help bring forth city projects that might otherwise not be pursued.

“I learn a tremendous amount about how best to grow Fayetteville from the other staff at the center, who have been internationally-recognized for their work,” said Petty.

The Walton Arts Center is the city’s primary partner for the matching grant, and has agreed to help match costs by chipping in $160,000 in cash and in-kind support for artist’s fees and site-specific project costs. The remaining $40,000 would come from personnel time donated by design center and city staff.

Levy’s 2009 “Ridge and Valley Water Map” installation

Courtesy: UA Community Design Center

Arts center officials selected Pennsylvania forester and sculptor Stacy Levy as the artist for the project.

Levy is experienced in working with municipalities to develop ecologically-themed public art spaces and often works with drainage infrastructure to create artistic rainwater interventions that treat stormwater and make the local watershed more visible.

Levy’s work is in line with another goal of the project, which is to convey an ecological story through the integration of public art with street and stormwater facilities.

“My art creates a comprehensible visual metaphor for an otherwise invisible natural process,” said Levy in a statement on her website.

Integrating Levy’s philosophies on art into the city’s streetscape plan, Petty said, will encourage new pedestrian activity on School Avenue and raise the ecological literacy of downtown patrons.

If Fayetteville wins the grant, it won’t be Levy’s first time to work in the region. She’s scheduled to create an onsite art installation project in Northwest Arkansas as part of the Walton Arts Center’s 2013 Artosphere festival.

Once designed, the project would need funding approval from both the Street Committee and the City Council. Petty said he didn’t expect costs to exceed those of a similar-sized, $300,000 renovation project completed in 2010 on Block Avenue. The money, he said, would likely be part of the city’s Capital Improvement Program, but could also come from bond surplus or sales tax turn-back funds.

The National Endowment for the Arts, which awarded $75,000 to Little Rock in 2011, is expected to announce its 2013 winners sometime in July.