Newport News Public Art Foundation

Newport News Public Art Foundation

In 2013, three new works were added to Newport News’ remarkable “open-air art gallery.” They are very different from one another, helping to build the diverse collection that serves a diverse community. What they have in common is that they are all quality work by internationally respected sculptors—and they all demonstrate the unusual and effective way Newport News approaches public art.

Handshake, by Gunther Stilling, is a symbolic centerpiece of the City’s economic development strategy. Installed at the entrance to City Center, the two monumental hands coming together in the traditional sign of a deal struck is a fitting icon for the area that has become the Peninsula’s “central business district.” The cast aluminum hands are both familiar and strikingly unusual, offering intriguing glimpses that change depending on the angle from which they are viewed—an essential for a work located in a traffic circle.

This project exemplifies the partnership approach that is unusual among public art programs, but it is a Newport News hallmark. The money to commission the sculpture was raised in the business community, with the EDA playing a key role in securing the lead gift from City Center investors. Businesses stepped up with in-kind contributions, from building the base to hosting the unveiling. The City assisted with the installation, preceded by site preparation by the EDA.

A very different piece can be found on a major thoroughfare, Warwick Boulevard. Time is an abstract expression of artist Lee Tribe’s effort to give the intangible of time a tangible form. The piece has done what art often does: it has challenged people, caused them to look closely and think about art and connected them, as they talk about their reactions to it. The sculpture, on long-term loan, was privately funded and the installation was a community effort, with in-kind contributions that ranged from zinc weather-proofing to running electrical cable to hosting a meet-the-sculptor event. City departments pitched in with traffic management and landscaping.

Newport News became a little more beautiful with the installation of Selene, a dreamy marble beauty, overlooking the James River near the popular Lion’s Bridge. Again, partnership made it happen. Donations from more than 100 community members funded the project, The Mariners’ Museum welcomed the addition to its marvelous park and the City assisted with logistics and planning, coordinating with stormwater management and shoreline restoration projects at the site.

During 2013, the City shared its community-led, collaborative approach to public art with a statewide audience. At the Virginia Municipal League fall conference, City Manager James Bourey and City Council members Sharon Scott, Tina Vick and Pat Woodbury conducted three roundtables, sharing with colleagues in other localities both the public art program’s strategic focus on economic development and the contribution art makes to the City’s quality of life and appeal. The next day, a tour of public art was included in the program for the Virginia Economic Developers Association conference, which the City hosted.