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The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Tuesday, August 16

September 11 Sculpture Saga

First off, anyone reading this should probably have first read the article on the 9/11 sculpture and the issues that have been surrounding it that ran Tuesday, Aug. 16.

Monday, Aug. 15, I met Michael Messinger and Hady Finch outside the Lake Avenue Firehouse. We waited in the rain, chatting and discussing the potential placement of the Sept. 11 memorial sculpture.
Finch and Messinger are members of the Visitors Center Heritage Area Advisory Board.
They, and another member of the board, Lance Ingmire, have been pushing to have the sculpture erected at the fire department, an alternative to putting the sculpture on the front lawn of the Visitors Center, a plan they oppose.

We were supposed to be meeting a representative from the Department of Environmental Conservation to discuss the environmental remediation that occurred at the Lake Avenue Fire Department two years ago.
Some city officials had said it may discount the site as a potential location for the memorial statue and members of the advisory board are hoping the DEC Project Manager from that project, Scott Deyette, would tell them otherwise — but that meeting never happened.
Ingmire crossed the street to meet Messinger, Finch, myself and John Betor, the retired assistant chief of the Saratoga Springs Fire Department, and informed us the meeting was canceled by the member of the DEC a little more than an hour before it was scheduled to take place for reasons the DEC representative would not specify. "He just said he could not attend the meeting," Ingmire said, adding Deyette's office had received questions from the media enquiring about the fire department site and the 9/11 memorial.
The group stood in front of the bay doors of the department, using terms like "stonewalling" to describe the canceled meeting.

Mayor Scott Johnson, who was not invited to the meeting, said he did not contact the DEC and had nothing to do with the canceled meeting. He said he believed the meeting was canceled because “The DEC did not know who they were meeting with.”
He said the term "stonewalling" and its sentiment were "inaccurate."
"The city is open to suggestions," he said. Johnson said the city has received a lot of correspondence about the sculpture. "If we were going to rush to judgment, we would be voting on it at (Tuesday night's) City Council meeting," something he said will not be happening.
Johnson said the members of the Visitors Center Heritage Area Advisory Committee were instructed not to use their official influence or membership on the advisory board to deal with any issues not involving the Visitors Center. “The Heritage Advisory Board has no jurisdiction over the Lake Avenue Fire Department,” he said.

The DEC representative could not be reached for comment as to why he canceled the meeting, but another DEC representative reached by phone Monday said the firehouse had been the site of an environmental cleanup, according to DEC Spokesperson David Winchell.
“It was a manufactured gas facility,” he said, explaining it was a plant around the end of the 19th century that converted coal into natural gas to be used for street lamps. “Every major city had them.”
He said he was unsure if there were restrictions on the deed, but that there were no longer environmental contaminants on the site.
Standing in the rain at the Fire Department, Ingmire and Finch debated the artistic and historic integrity of the sculpture.
"If you are the sculpture," Ingmire said, pointing to me, "There is a 4-by-4 transformer box to your left. Over your shoulder is a Wendy's," he said, explaining why the area is not suited to a memorial.

Meanwhile, Betor went to his car and pulled out a small vial of gray dust.
"That's ash from the World Trade Center," he said. The retired assistant chief is also a retired Army National Guardsman who was in the command center following the attack. He had the ash in his office at the fire department and said he has been meaning to drop it off at the Military Museum since he cleaned out his office.
"Everyone has a way of looking at things," he said. "Mine is quiet reflection..."
"A place to sit and cry," Ingmire adds, stressing the fire department is a better site for the monument. Betor didn't answer. Instead he walked to his car and put the ashes back.
Ingmire asked Betor if he would be interested in becoming a team member as an advocate for putting the monument at the fire department.
"I'll be a team member as an advocate for finding a better place for it," he responded.

The structure has been done for about a month and a half according to one of the artists, Noah Savett, who said he is concerned that the consideration of another site for the project will ruin its timeline.
"Any change is going to derail our 9/11 date," he said Monday.
Johnson said the date is "not a driving factor, but it is a consideration," but the idea since this sculpture's inception was to debut it on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.
Reed, Tuesday, sent out a mass email (see below) urging people to attend the Tuesday night City Council meeting in the hopes it will spur the City Council to vote and finalize the placement of the sculpture, something Johnson said will not happen Aug. 16.

Savett said he is for the placement of his and John Van Alstine's sculpture at the Visitor's Center, not only for the timeline consideration.
"I like the site; I think it gives people a lot of room to view it," he said. "I think it lends itself to be a contemplative site."
He also said a number of donors have given site-specific service donations to the project, which would be useless with a change of venue.
Savett added that while he is not a historic architecture specialist, it has been reviewed by people who are. "People much more credentialed and knowledgeable than me have vetted the proposal," he said.

The Design Review Commission, the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation have all signed off on the Visitors Center as a suitable site for the memorial.

SHIPO Opinion

Below is Joel Reed's e-mail, though I am afraid I had to change the formatting a bit to get it online like this (Posting this e-mail is not me endorsing its contents, only giving people the opportunity to read it):

Saratoga Springs' 9/11 Memorial Sculpture Might Be Sacrificed For Political Gain

Remember the 2004 presidential campaign? It was pretty nasty all around, but one ad campaign in particular left its mark on our language with the term "swiftboating." In it, an anonymously-funded group claimed that John Kerry's record as a Vietnam war hero (his Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Hearts) was built on his false representations about what happened during the months he served as Chief Officer of a Vietnam river swiftboat.

Whoever you voted for in that election, most of us agree that the swiftboat ad campaign brought American politics to a new low - it besmirched a record of service and sacrifice by twisting the historical record, presented a few unrepresentative spokespeople from a group that was his natural support base as his most vociferous opponents, and politicized accomplishments that should have been out of bounds of partisan debate.

Amazingly, the same thing has been happening in Saratoga Springs with the Tempered By Memory project. I'm not surprised that there's debate about the aesthetics of the sculpture, or about finding the most appropriate place for its installation. Those conversations are inevitable, and we even think are a benefit to the project - at Saratoga Arts we thrive on discussions about about art and its place in our community! Given the long open process we've engaged with the project, the months of public meetings and discussions we've hosted and in which we've participated, and the number, quality, and range of historical preservationists we've asked to review its placement, we think that we're on firm ground on those discussions.

We never imagined that anyone would politicize Tempered By Memory for partisan gain, but it's an election year. The party seeking to pick up seats on the City Council is exploiting those reasonable grounds for debate into a wedge issue and identifying this as the Mayor's project. A couple of artists grinding the axe of personal resentment are casting doubt on the integrity of Saratoga Arts' staff, board, and the project artists, and a handful of self-appointed community guardians who usually rally around the cry of "consult the Design Review Commission" conveniently ignore the fact that we have received the DRC's enthusiastic, unanimous support and that of other preservation experts. This handful of opponents is using party fundraisers and blogs as forums for undercutting the project.

The majority party on the City Council is aware of what the other side is saying, and up to now hasn't acted much more admirably. It seems that September 11 is for them an arbitrary date on the calendar. They dismiss the work we've done to have Tempered By Memory installed by then, and though we've been inviting public input into the project since December 2010, they say "don't rush things" and "let's appoint a committee to study it." In private conversation, they admit they're driven by fear as the election approaches, and what's most important to them is putting off any further discussion of the project until after November 8 - and after that, who knows what will happen?

Democrats attacking a community arts project created by a rainbow coalition of artists, unions, small and large businesses, and individuals from all walks of life? Republicans minimizing the significance of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 and shunting aside a project that deeply resonates with veterans and first responders? And both throwing Saratoga Arts and the chance for community unity on 9/11 under the bus in the hope of picking up a few votes?

It really is a topsy-turvey world. Please help us turn it right-side up!

If you're not familiar with the project, you can go to our website and read all about it.

If you click here, you can find some of the letters to The Saratogian that have been submitted (including ones that haven't been printed) addressing in more detail the process of artist and site selection, and giving Saratoga Arts board's perspective on why the project is so important.

Please take a moment before Tuesday afternoon to email or call your support of Tempered By Memory to the commissioners' and mayor's office; it will make a difference - if you feel that the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 and its commemoration should transcend city politics and this unique artwork should have a place in our city, ask them to stop stalling and vote to accept the project so we can keep things moving along:

Mayor Scott Johnson, 587-3550 ext.2514 -
Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco, 587-3550 ext.2561 -
Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, 587-3550 ext.2543 -
Commissioner of Finance Ken Ivins Jr., 587-3550 ext.2571 -
Commissioner of Public Safety Richard Wirth, 587-3550 ext.2627 -

Please also come to the City Council meeting on Tuesday, August 16, at 7pm, and add your voice to those we have.

Thank you! As always, call or email me if you have any questions.

Joel Reed
Saratoga Arts, Executive Director

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Anonymous Kyle York said...

Mr. Reed believes that writing is like sculpture- More tonnage makes for more virtue. He lectures on elections, rants against political parties, and blithely speaks for all the "veterans" who fought for their right to freely speak for themselves. He leaves out only a serving of Apple Pie as he steers his sanctimonious swiftboat far wide of the only REAL topic-- The long-standing, oft-used, and proven process for creating Public Art in towns of all shapes and sizes. Just WHY is it that his crack team of night-vision-equipped elitists can't adhere to the open process? Jump to pages 10-13 if Joel’s letter has left you understandably exhausted--

It's as American as Huck Finn and Freedom from Slavery. Doesn't Joel think Saratoga Springs can handle such complexity (see pgs 10-13 above)... or are we a society of simpletons in need of his "long open process?"

-Kyle York
Living where "Public Art" is neither.

August 16, 2011 at 11:59 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any possibility of putting it in Congress Park, down across from the Batcheller Mansion? There are other memorials in the park. Certainly the space is big enough and quite enough, for reflection away from highly trafficked areas.

August 16, 2011 at 1:21 PM 
Anonymous Patrick Donges said...

What happened to the corner of Broadway and Ellsworth Jones Place in front of the City Center?

August 17, 2011 at 11:15 AM 
Blogger Paul Kersey said...

Patrick - Great Question! The reason we've been given for the statue not being on the corner of Broadway and Ellsworth Jones Place is because "it's too big". Hopefully someone with access to the parties involved will ask the questions and find out who's to blame for the sculpture not fitting. The city? The Sculpture, The City Center Achitect? I think we need to have some accountability here.

August 17, 2011 at 3:54 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Saratoga really need a rather amateurish and ugly sculpture to commemorate the death of 2,976 people from 9/11 terrorism? No. Conceptually it is seriously laking and one dimensional. Showing a bunch of twisted iron from the trade center wreckage and adding a few welds does not make it art. That said, the artist should go back and rethink his sculpture to fit the original designated site instead of "all the parties" finding the nearest open lot on Broadway to dump it because it does not fit. This would be a "professional" expectation by our community & "professional" deliverable from the artist. We should not accept anything less from him.

The absolutely worst place to place to dump it is in the epicenter of our community... on Broadway across from the entrance to Congress Park. If we have to have it I will suggest a site location in the back NE corner of Congress Park. There is a large open area at the top of the hill near where Union Ave meets Nelson Ave. The sculpture would be surrounded by large trees acting as counter balance to its scale and offer a greater contemplative and healing experience while viewing. Something Broadway will never offer. I know I do not want to have this wreckage in my face 24/7/365. There is death, terrorism, anger, etc connected to this piece and always will be. Ultimately I don't want it at all and don't need it to "never forget".

August 19, 2011 at 9:41 AM 

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