If you’ve driven south on Highway 97 at night recently, passing under the NE Maple Avenue/NE Negus Way bridge, you’ve likely noticed a fascinating glowing art installation on the west side of the overpass.
And the artist who created the piece, Bruce Taylor, is hoping that, without running off the road, you noticed the subtle color changes.
The unique art installation is the result of the city’s US 97 Reroute Gateway Beautification Project.
A little history
Back in 2011, the city conducted a study to determine those areas that would benefit from investment in “beautification improvements.” Two areas where identified — the Pacific Power substation and the Negus Way overpass — both on Highway 97.
In May 2017, the Urban Renewal Agency Board, saying Highway 97 is Redmond’s front door and gateway, deemed both locations “high priority” and allocated $125,000 for the projects. The Maple overpass would receive $45,000, the Pacific Power substation $80,000.
The Redmond Committee for Art in Public Places was then approached and asked to research beautification ideas including art, landscaping, privacy screens and fence painting. The committee got to work, created ideas, published requests for proposals and communicated with artists. Unfortunately, safety concerns from Pacific Power and the Oregon Department of Transportation surrounding beautification improvements at the substation caused that project to die.
Not so with the Maple overpass project.
Bruce Taylor chosen for overpass project
Artists who create and produce public art pieces are used to creating proposals for communities that request them.
Bruce Taylor created public art since 1989. Originally from Colorado, Taylor has a degree in art from Colorado State University and has public art pieces in California, Missouri, Massachusetts and Colorado.
Taylor, his wife and 15 year-old daughter moved to Redmond from Texas about four and a half years ago. And he’s glad they made the move.
As an artist fairly new to the community, Taylor volunteered with the Committee for Art in Public Places for about a year to get a feel for Redmond’s interest in public art. He wound up diving right in.
The Maple bridge project is actually his second Redmond piece.
His first, part of the city’s Art Around the Clock program, an outdoor gallery designed to enhance the beauty and livability of the community, was named “Jules Verne.”
“I actually did a temporary thing for the program,” he said. “It’s over by Wild Ride (5th Street and Deschutes Avenue), concrete and recycled glass, solar lit.”
Design challenges on the Maple overpass project
The Committee for Art in Public Places laid out preliminary creative concepts for the bridge project in its request for proposals. One was the inclusion of solar lighting — which presented a challenge for the artist.
“Originally they wanted a solar piece but, with the north-facing location on the side of the bridge, solar really wouldn’t work — and ODOT wouldn’t allow anything mounted above the bridge that would accommodate solar panels,” Taylor said. “So we settled on 200 low-voltage LED lights that use very low energy.”
Problem solved — sort of.
Although Redmond owns the ramp on which the installation resides (ODOT owns the bridge), and power could be connected by the city, the installation of a power meter for the art work seemed like an unnecessary expense to Taylor.
Enter Branegan Dixon, owner of the Redmond Athletic Club, which is directly below the installation, who stepped in to help.
“Branegan allowed the city to connect to his power and he’s paying the monthly bill,” Taylor said. “I think it’s under $150 a year with the lights running sunset to sunrise. He didn’t have to do that.”
The design concept — the eye of the beholder
Having grown up in Colorado, loving outdoor environments, and enjoying his new life here on the High Desert, Taylor’s design concept seems a natural fit for Redmond.
“The concept I came up with, and presented to the committee, was loosely based on motion,” he said. “It’s mildly kinetic because the lights physically change. It’s also topographical, like a map, so it has levels of elevation, sort of mountains and valleys. And for me it conveys motion, it can represent water, clouds, and wind.”
Clearly, our recent bouts with wildfire have influenced the artist.
“And with the color patterns that I used it basically connotes fire that glows,” Taylor said. “It’s motion on a pretty subtle level.”
The final design, completed and mounted in July, is primarily aluminum with stainless steel mounting hardware. Created in two pieces for ease of transport, it also has been clear-coated to withstand Central Oregon’s weather extremes.
Taylor thinks of his piece as abstract — representation is in the eye of the beholder. “I think my piece is one of the more non-objective, abstract contemporary pieces in Redmond.”
So what have people said about the piece?
The appreciation of abstract art is always going to be in the eye of the viewer. Taylor has received a number of positive comments about the piece since its installation. He’s even noticed people stopping at night, on the road next to the Redmond Athletic Club, to watch the color schemes change.
But giving it a name — that’s another story.
“Originally there wasn’t a name for the piece. A couple of people started calling it the eye,” Taylor said. “I’m fine with that but it’s kind of funny because, when we (Taylor and an engineer) were designing it we referred to the top of the design as the eyebrow.”
So what does Taylor’s young daughter think about the art?
“My daughter is 15, she’s seen a couple of pieces I did in Dallas (Texas),” Taylor said. “One evening she and I were sitting in the car watching the colors slowly change and she told me it was pretty boring. She was right and I changed the speed right away.”
Is art in public places a good use of taxpayer money?
Ginny McPherson is a Redmond City Councilor and the city’s liaison to RCAPP.
“I see many benefits to our city as a result of the art program. Beautification being one,” McPherson said. “People from all over the country that come through Redmond comment on our art pieces. It adds a sense of culture and interest.”
Linda Gilmore Hill, Chair of RCAPP, sees the economic development benefits as well. “There is economic value to the community as visitors view what we have done with art. Potential buyers feel this a plus for living here. Redmond has almost $800,000 worth of art on our streets.”
Public art is all around us, Taylor said.
“It’s been pretty much proven that it’s about place making,” he said. “I like to compare it to the little things. There isn’t anybody who doesn’t like the hanging flower baskets in downtown Redmond. Well that’s just art — and if you create a place that has an interesting environment that’s what draws people to the town.”
Redmond is doing a good job of representing all factions within the community, Taylor said.
“The arts in Redmond are really representative of the people here — young people, progressives, rural people, conservatives, liberals, etc.,” he said. “People want to see representation, art they can relate to.”
— Reporter: 541-548-2185, firstname.lastname@example.org