Downtown Okemos Sculpture Park
About the Project
The project site is a vacant grass lot in the midst of the old downtown of Okemos.It is surrounded by mixed use commercial and residential, across the river and down the street from parks and a natural area. Okemos Road fronts the property and carries over 40,000 vehicles daily.
The goal of the project is to create a small pocket park to allow for a few benches set off the sidewalk, so pedestrians can rest and appreciate the Disco Fish sculptures. There is a large dead tree in the middle of the lot that is perfectly suited for carving into a complimentary sculpture, perhaps a statue of Chief Okemos, for whom the village was named.
Any sense of place for downtown Okemos was lost over the years as the nearby Meridian mall and big-box retailers changed the focus of the area. The Meridian Township Downtown Development Authority (Okemos DDA) was created to reverse the decline and restore the once vibrant, walkable community that still exists (although somewhat under the radar), unappreciated and in need of a boost in the right direction.
This stretch of Okemos Road has no benches for several miles, and much of the pedestrian use is from apartment dwellers about a mile down the road from the local Meijer and Meridian Mall, where they do their shopping. While it is also a route for neighborhood dog walkers and a few joggers, there is a substantial immigrant population in the lower income apartment complex who use this pathway to carry their groceries home. Whatever the use, the need for a restive bench stop is evident.
Another goal is to engage the community to help create the space using found or donated objects. Meridian Township residents have shown strong support for the environment and green spaces and have an annual Recycling Event produced by a public/private partnership with Township, residential and commercial organizations. One suggestion was to use local talent, perhaps a high school project, to use recycled materials to build the benches in the sculpture park. This was prompted by a utilitarian “Bench” sculpture that was included in the 2011 of public art leased from the Midwest Sculpture Initiative.
Right now the space is an empty hole in an otherwise full streetscape. This project would have a significant impact on the public’s perception of the old village area being transformed and reborn. Last year heralded the first major infrastructure improvement at the intersection in close to 30 years, when the DDA installed state-of-the-art LED street lights with hanging flower baskets and banners. This project would be in close proximity to one of the street lights, giving it high visibility at all times, day and night.
Since much of the public art is transitory under annual leases from the Midwest Sculpture Initiative, this semi-permanent installation would give the public art effort some stable grounding. The property owner has indicated his willingness to sell the property to the Township or the DDA, as it is a difficult site to develop due to its size and location. This project would be a concrete example of what could be done with the space. The hope is that it would start a snowball effect and lead to even more community support for future development of a full-fledged Sculpture Park for the community to enjoy in perpetuity.Downtown Okemos Sculpture Park
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