Drivers heading into Downtown Plano now have more to look at than just traffic cones and taillights. Seven sculptures, each depicting a different element of the local arts scene, were recently installed on a stretch of 15th Street between Central Expressway and G Avenue. They are the culmination of a community effort known as the “Portal Project” that has been in the works for several years.
“It’s exciting to see after so many years,” Plano manager of arts, culture and heritage Michelle Hawkins said. “I hope residents are proud of it and that they think it’s a good addition to the neighborhood and feels inclusive to everybody.”
Michelle helped spearhead the project, which included a panel of downtown residents, business owners, members of the artistic community and city staff. Their initial call for artists elicited 196 submissions. The panel narrowed the field down to six, and asked them to send more downtown specific proposals. From there two finalists were chosen and presented to City Council.
Council opted for Colorado-based sculptor Joshua Weiner, who specializes in site-specific works inspired by their location. He had already spent time in Plano when he was working on another public arts project at Frisco’s Harold Bacchus Community Park.
“I wanted to celebrate the act of making art,” Joshua said. “The framework of the project was presented to me with some really good intent, and I was responsive to that.”
Joshua dubbed his multi-sculpture project for Plano “Rhythmic Illuminations.” He utilized a complex layering of materials and spacing to create a sense of movement based on the viewer’s perspective. Figures are set perpendicular to the road. As drivers approach them, the sculptures at first appear to be simple splashes of twisting colors. However, as they get closer, the images of various performers are revealed. A violinist evokes the sense of music playing while the painter appears to be in the midst of applying brush to canvas.
Lighting also plays a critical role in the designs. Joshua meticulously plotted where it would be reflected and how it would look from multiple angles. When electrical work is completed sometime over the next month, lights will illuminate the center of each piece at night, beckoning drivers to the ever-expanding Downtown Plano Arts District.
Of course completing a project of this scale requires more than just artistic vision. Joshua initially worked with an engineer to essentially reverse-engineer the pieces. Together they evaluated the foundation built by city officials, and determined exactly what they could build and how big they could go.
For six months, Joshua and a team of three assistants worked relentlessly at his Colorado studio. He tested numerous materials to ensure that his pieces would endure the test of time.
“You always want to see people maintaining the work, but governments change and ruling bodies change,” Joshua said. “I always want my work to look beautiful even if it’s totally neglected.”
Each sculpture is made of aluminum, which unlike steel, typically continues to look good even if the paint begins to fade. Joshua also tested various adhesives and reinforced them with screw anchors in certain places to ensure stability.
“The installation went really well,” he said. “It’s really neat to see it in its context.”
Joshua didn’t have long to enjoy his completed job. He is currently working on a large project in Commerce City, Colo. that will depict two larger-than-life kids riding on Big Wheels pulling boats towards the community’s recreation center.
For the time being, there are no plans for additional sculptures in Plano. Now that the historic district has its glitzy new gateway in place, Michelle said her next order of business will be working to attract even more events to the arts district and McCall Plaza stage.