$32,000 for artsy sewer manhole covers????


Manhole makeover
Scottsdale takes public art to the streets

Dolores Tropiano
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 29, 2004 12:00 AM

From Scottsdale, where freeway walls are purple canvases for tan lizards and metal bus shelters look like saguaros, comes the latest in places to put public art - manhole covers.

Scottsdale's Public Art and Collections Committee has approved $5,000 for the design for as many as 100 artsy storm-drain covers in the heavily pedestrian downtown Scottsdale shopping and arts districts.

The estimated cost is $32,000, which Scottsdale officials hope to share between the city's water department and a private donor. advertisement

"It shows our desire to elevate design in the community in utilitarian objects such as a bench or a signal light," said Valerie Vadala Homer, director of Scottsdale's Public Art Program.

"These are created in really heavy metal, so they are sculptural. They provide an interesting canvas. It's an interesting problem to find a solution for, and that's what public art is."

Hatch cover art is new to the Valley, although several have popped up in Phoenix. Elsewhere around the world, they are a phenomenon in places like Japan and Canada.

"If we look at them as blank canvases, suddenly we are creating an opportunity for small discoveries, and that's the crux of public art," said Margaret Bruning, associate director of Scottsdale's Public Art Program. "These unexpected discoveries that we take into our senses, infuse the physiological and emotional experience of everyday life.

"There is an almost underground, cult interest in artist-designed hatch covers. They are symbolic marks that pedestrians will notice. It has created a fascination."

Not everyone in Scottsdale likes the idea.

"Of all the harebrained ways to spend money - and there have been many - this tops the list," Elaine Abts said.

The idea for stepping up to artist-designed hatch covers in Scottsdale came from Councilman Wayne Ecton, who heard about it at the National League of Cities meeting this year in Washington, D.C. He is working with the Scottsdale Public Art Program to secure a sponsor to cover most of the cost of the project.

"I think it's another way to have public art that is inexpensive," Ecton said. "We have a lot of visitors downtown, and I think they need to be cognizant of what we're doing in public art."

City officials say mechanized street sweepers would clean the covers periodically along with the rest of the streets, and that there is little chance of the covers being stolen because they are so heavy.

Reach the reporter at dolores.tropiano@arizonarepublic .com or (602) 444-6876.

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