A company out of Boston and another from Delaware created a 50-by-20-foot version of an idea proposed by artist Jaume Plensa, which calls for water and 30-foot-high lights stretching across a 10,000-square-foot area on Fayetteville Street.
"We're illuminating the night sky in an artistic point of view," says Giovanni Ciranni, of Main Light, the company that erected the temporary display.
"Really, the wiring is a lot thinner than I thought. and the lights are a lot smaller, so it doesn't really impact the view down Fayetteville as I thought it might," said Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker.
The proposal has gotten mixed reviews since it was first presented, and the city paid thousands of dollars to see a mock-up of the plan before the City Council votes Tuesday on whether to proceed with it.
"I think public art definitely needs to be in that area, just not in the middle of the street," City Manager Russell Allen said. "I just think this is the wrong place for this type of public art."
Allen cited the project's cost -- it's nearly $2 million over budget -- and engineering concerns related to the size of the columns to hold up the lights and having water running over an underground parking garage.
WRAL has learned that four of the seven City Council members aren't inclined to vote for the project, primarily because it blocks the view from the state Capitol to the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The view was recently restored through the removal of the pedestrian mall along Fayetteville Street, and council members said they aren't ready to let go of what they call a stunning view.
Councilman Thomas Crowder said he thinks the city should have stressed the importance of the view along Fayetteville Street to Plensa early on.
"I think it was incumbent upon the city to give him parameters to work within, and I think that view is of great concern," Crowder said.
Councilwoman Jessie Taliaferro agreed that the city might have not been fair to Plensa. The artist was invited to Raleigh when Fayetteville Street was still under construction, making it difficult for him to judge a sense of place before the street was opened, she said.
Jim Goodmon, chief executive of Capitol Broadcasting Co., WRAL's parent company, has pledged $2.5 million to the Plensa project and disagreed with the notion that the light canopy would obstruct the view along Fayetteville Street.
"We've got these small wires with LED lights. I'm not going to say you don't see it, but it's not going to block the view. As a matter of fact, I think it's going to enhance the view," Goodmon said.
Goodmon and other project supporters said they hope the council takes its time to work through the issues with Plensa's proposal so it isn't derailed.
"His work is collected by galleries and museums of merit throughout the world, which is what makes it so terrific for Raleigh," said Larry Wheeler, director of the North Carolina Museum of Art. "I'm a little impatient with people who belittle it, because they haven't taken the time to really understand it."
Plensa was unavailable for comment Monday, but a person close to him said the artist tried his best to capture the spirit of the city.
"He's dependent on people to embrace the idea. He was invited to make a proposal, and he did so -- as he has done all over the world. This was a sincere effort arrived at over the course of nearly a year," the person said.
Plensa's idea is the second public art proposal for Fayetteville Street. Earlier, Goodmon backed the design of colorful chandeliers to hang over the street. He said the city isn't committed to public art downtown for some reason.
"We hired the artists to do the chandeliers. Now, we aren't doing those there. We have Plensa now. We are moving down to the final pricing on it, (and) we don't want to do that," Goodmon said, noting he would discuss plans for his gift to support a downtown art project if Plensa is turned away.
"It's hard to get a clear reading of what the city really does wants in terms of art. I think Raleigh would be embarrassed (by rejecting Plensa). It's not just Raleigh watching this project, but the art world is watching," Wheeler said.
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