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JPA delays decision on Haymarket art after response to 35-year-old dog killing

2013-10-04T04:00:00Z 2013-10-04T18:03:09Z JPA delays decision on Haymarket art after response to 35-year-old dog killingBy NANCY HICKS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

The three-member group overseeing West Haymarket development has delayed a decision on a $500,000 contract for artwork by New York City Artist Tom Otterness. 

The contract has been pulled from the West Haymarket Joint Public Agency agenda for Friday afternoon, said Trish Owen, deputy chief of staff to Mayor Chris Beutler.

Otterness had agreed to donate $25,000 to the Lincoln Humane Society as a part of his contract to create a bronze sculpture, the Train Set, for the city. 

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The donation was intended to mitigate a controversial film he made in 1977 in which he "rescued" a dog from a shelter, tied it up, then shot it dead.

Response to a story about Otterness and the movie in Friday's Journal Star were immediate, and the mayor's office noted in an online comment on the story that the contract would be pulled from the JPA's Friday agenda. 

"The board is going to think about where we want to go in regard to public art," Owen said Friday morning.

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The 12 1/2-foot-long bronze train, slated for the Olsson Associates building plaza, was one of the proposals selected by a committee working on Pinnacle Bank arena art. 

Otterness also has other work in Nebraska. He sculpted "Fallen Dreamer," the big bronze head on the front steps of the Sheldon Museum of Art and a covered wagon piece on the front lawn of the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. 

The movie Otterness made when he was 25, "Shot Dog Film" has come back to haunt him.

He did not respond Thursday to a telephone interview request, but he has apologized repeatedly for the incident.

"He has been so sorry for so long," said Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler, who picked the Otterness proposal from several offered by artists for the arena area. 

"The donation was something he volunteered to do, as a little way of making amends," Beutler said. "I just think there is a point in time when each one of us deserves forgiveness. This happened a long time ago, and he should have been forgiven a long time ago.

"We ought to just accept him as being a fine artist and be grateful for the work he does."

The little bronze sculpture, called "Train Set," has had trouble finding a home in Lincoln, not because of the dog film controversy but because of its size and whimsical nature. It would stand about 3 1/2 feet tall.

Otterness submitted the proposal for the Pinnacle Bank Arena plaza, but a committee decided it was too small for the plaza or lobby area, said Paula Yancey, project manager for West Haymarket development.

Instead, "Candy Box" by artist Donald Lipski was selected for the arena lobby.

Beutler then suggested "Train Set" for a green space near Lincoln Station, the old rail depot, but the city's Urban Design Committee also said it was too small.

Now the sculpture is planned for the open plaza at Olsson's private office building going up at Canopy and P streets.

Of the $500,000 cost of sculpting, shipping and installing the artwork, $300,000 would come from tax-increment financing and $200,000 from the arena's artwork budget, Yancey said.

"Train Set" also would require about $2,500 to $4,500 per year in maintenance, according to the artist's description.

Yancey said the bronze piece ties into the landscape of both Lincoln and the state and is a symbol of optimism and the city's economic growth, past and present.

The sculpture would be scaled so kids can climb and play on it, she said, and the current version of it is scaled back from the original $750,000 proposal.

Otterness is best known for his cartoonish bronze men and animals throughout New York. Largely thanks to public art funds, he often places his sculptures near schools, playgrounds, parks and libraries.

He has pieces featured in Europe and Asia and designed a float for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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