Its name is ”Phoenix Rising,” but many know it by another: ”The Flaming Chicken.”
A piece of kinetic art that moves like a giant weather vane, the towering, blazing orange, avian metal sculpture looms brightly over the roundabout at 14th Street and Galveston Avenue in Bend.
Perhaps befitting its incendiary color, it ignited a critical firestorm when it was installed in 2002, and came to symbolize the then-simmering debate about the flurry of public art that was cropping up in Bend's new roundabouts.
But four years later, the debate seems to have subsided. Instead of complaints, the private nonprofit that placed Bend's 14 roundabout art installations is hearing mostly praise.
”It's gone from not only many complaints to people wanting more,” said Cate O'Hagan, a member of the Bend-based nonprofit Art in Public Places.
Whether more roundabout art is on the way, however, is uncertain. The last sculpture the group budgeted was installed in December - a horse sculpture by Tumalo artist Danae Bennett Miller - at the Ninth Street and Newport Avenue roundabout. It was the 14th piece installed since 2001.
Bend, however, has, at last count, 21 roundabouts. AIPP doesn't have plans to fill any more roundabouts, but is exploring its options, O'Hagan said.
Whether more roundabout art is on the way, however, is uncertain. The last sculpture the group budgeted was installed in December - a horse sculpture by Tumalo artist Danae Bennett-Miller - at the Ninth Street and Newport Avenue roundabout. It was the 14th piece installed since 2001.
Bend, however, has 21 roundabouts at last count. AIPP doesn't have plans to fill any more roundabouts, but is exploring its options, O'Hagan said.
What is certain, however, is that Bend's collection of roundabout art is one-of-a-kind.
”You definitely have a strong and successful program in your city,” said Meagan Atiyeh, who as visual arts coordinator for the Oregon Art Commission oversees Oregon's Percent for Art public art program.
”From what I've seen, the quality of artwork purchased or commissioned for the roundabouts is very high, and the selection of artists has been very astute.”
Bend's first roundabout, at Century Drive and Colorado Avenue, was built in 1999. It was paid for by Brooks Resources, a Bend property development firm, to allay the city's traffic concerns about a nearby office park the firm was developing.
Partly inspired by travels abroad, Mike Hollern, the firm's longtime president, proposed building a roundabout at the intersection, which would also connect the office park's new road, Chandler Avenue, to the existing, heavily used thoroughfares.
Roundabouts, Hollern said, move traffic more efficiently, reduce accidents and cut down on pollution caused by idling motors. The city approved the plan.
Around the rest of Bend's west side, however, traffic wasn't flowing smoothly. Growth was causing traffic headaches, and intersections were failing. The city threatened a moratorium on new development until a traffic solution was reached.
Enter Hollern and the West Bend Traffic Consortium, a group of west-side developers and property owners. The group proposed eight new roundabouts to replace the failing intersections. They would be paid for by the developers, who would later be reimbursed by the city.
The city again agreed, and roundabouts started popping up. But what to do with the space reclaimed from the middle of the intersection? The first roundabout had been built brand new, so it was able to preserve the existing natural landscaping as roads were routed around it. The intersections for the other proposed roundabouts, however, were full of asphalt.
”We thought, wouldn't it be kind of cool, if Art in Public Places was willing to take it on, to develop an art program to put into all of those roundabouts as they were built over the next several years,” Hollern said.
For that, Hollern turned to his wife, Sue. A resident of Bend for more than 40 years, Sue Hollern was once a member of a community arts group in Bend called Art Now, established ”before there were galleries,” she said. It later morphed into the nonprofit group Art in Public Places. That year was 1973, according to a history of the group posted on its Web site, www.artinpublic places.org.
As a member of AIPP, Sue Hollern had a long history of placing public art in Bend. Perhaps the most well-known of the group's contributions is ”Art,” the sculpture of a man on a bench at the corner of Wall Street and Franklin Avenue in downtown Bend.
The other members of AIPP, besides O'Hagan, are Jody Ward, Marlene Alexander, Mary Ann Ebbs and Peggy Busacker.
So when Brooks Resources came calling with the roundabout project, AIPP was ready. Funding was secured from the Bend Foundation, a philanthropic arm of Brooks Resources and a longtime benefactor of AIPP, and the group began soliciting proposals from artists. The first piece installed was ”Sunrise Spirit Column,” a towering stone and bronze sculpture, at the Mt. Washington Drive and NW Crossing Drive roundabout, in 2001.
By the time ”Phoenix Rising” was installed in 2002, the fifth roundabout art installation, the din of a vocal community segment unhappy with both the roundabouts and their art had reached a roar, said O'Hagan.
Letters to the editor, both pro and con, poured in to The Bulletin. More con than pro, however.
Bend resident Curt Brawner, in a letter dated Dec. 16, 2002, wrote: ”I have, like many others, tried to find a positive influence of the art in the evil flaming swan ... I feel the answer is replacement. Our neighbors, friends, business associates all have to be subjected to the evil bird every time they pass through the intersection.”
Other letters condemned the sculpture as ”a huge red chicken with its butt on fire,” and a ”fire duck.”
At the time, the debate became so heated that even the City Council considered taking action, although it eventually declined, according to The Bulletin's archives.
The roundabout controversy, as O'Hagan sees it, was as much rooted in Bend's rampant growth and an influx of newcomers as it was in the selection of the art.
”I think, when the roundabouts went in, they were going into old, established neighborhoods in some cases, and I think it was viewed as disruptive, and as changing the landscape maybe in a way that the older local people didn't want to see,” O'Hagan said.
”Then, to add perceived insult to injury, you put art on it, and they thought initially that the city was paying for it, so there was this outcry against this misuse of public funds.
”And then it came out it wasn't public money, and instead of being thankful for that, they were irate that a group of wealthy people were imposing their tastes on the population.”
To quell the unrest, AIPP held a public forum at the Bend Public Library. They agreed to publish the group's selection criteria and to modify the selection process to include public comment.
In 2003, the City Council finally did weigh in, negotiating an agreement with AIPP to ensure the public would be able to review a minimum of three choices for each roundabout, according to The Bulletin's archives, and AIPP would then use the public's comments as a factor in its decisions.
The changes seemed to do the trick, O'Hagan said.
”I think when people thought they had a vote, they didn't feel like things were being pushed down their throat,” she said.
Public art is usually the domain of government, said Eloise Damrosch, the executive director of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, which oversees public art in Portland. And it is usually funded with a Percent for Art program.
For example, the state of Oregon mandates that 1 percent of the budget for a new state government building over $100,000 (correctional facilities excluded) be used to fund public art.
The city of Bend does not have a Percent for Art program. Des-chutes County has on occasion assessed a percent for art, as it did with the construction of the new county building in Bend, but does so on a per-project basis.
Portland recently increased its Percent for Art program from 1.33 percent to 2 percent.
”I think public art makes life more interesting in the daily context of how we go about our town or city,” said Damrosch. ”It also proves to be an economic benefit, because it raises property values, and also, it's good for tourism.”
Portland has a vast amount of public art, but Damrosch said the city also went through an adjustment period as people got used to it. Very often with time, she said, ”even the naysayers come around.”
”If everybody liked every piece of art that went into public spaces, it would probably mean the art was pretty boring,” Damrosch said.
Bend's roundabout art ranges from the abstract, such as the three colored blocks at the Newport Avenue and 14th Street roundabout, to the realistic, such as the grizzly bear at Ninth Street and Franklin Avenue on the city's east side.
Half of the pieces depict or contain animals, including two roundabouts with horses, two with birds, and one each with fish, deer and the grizzly.
The most popular piece, according to an online survey conducted by The Bulletin, is the kinetic fish sculpture in the roundabout at Simpson and Colorado Avenues. Titled ”Redsides,” the iconic piece was made by artist Miles Pepper, and features 12 aluminum and stainless steel fish that move together in the wind, mimicking a school of fish.
Pepper, 48, who lives in Pullman, Wash., makes his living creating art for public art programs across the Northwest.
For his sculptures, Pepper said he likes to incorporate natural elements specific to the art's location. Noting the roundabout's proximity to the river, Pepper began researching its fish, and struck artistic gold when he discovered the Deschutes' distinctive redside rainbow trout.
The fourth piece of roundabout art commissioned by AIPP, ”Redsides” was installed in the summer of 2001. Although from out of town, Pepper said he quickly realized he had stepped into the middle of some sort of community controversy. Motorists heckled him while he worked.
”I even got heckled by a guy on a bicycle,” Pepper said.
But those experiences were tempered by an encounter with some workers from the adjacent Deschutes Brewery. They came out and gave Pepper two six-packs, he said. Pepper and the brewery employees also had a laugh over the coincidental nature of his installation and the name of the brewery's owner: Gary Fish.
”It was really a treat,” Pepper said. ”One of the better moments I had during the installation.”
Pepper was paid $35,000 for his sculpture, and was ”very happy” with his remuneration. Public art is a strange way to make a living, he said, but a viable one. He hasn't been back to see his installation, but he's heard good things about it.
”I think it was a privilege to be selected as one of the people to make art for that, and from what I've heard from people who have gone there or have lived there, it's been received real well, so I'm happy about that,” Pepper said.
Piece de resistance
As for more roundabout art, the prospect is up in the air. AIPP agreed to fill 14 roundabouts, but is willing to do more if it can secure the funding, O'Hagan said. Some roundabouts, however, are meant to retain natural landscaping.
O'Hagan believes there has been a ”total” reversal of public opinion regarding Bend's roundabout art, ”to the point where people call me up and say, 'Why don't we get art over here?'” she said.
And considering what they've accomplished so far, AIPP seems to be on the right track.
”I would say for a city the size of Bend, that doesn't have a true public art program, I think they've done a remarkable job,” said Damrosch. ”I would say the long-standing commitment from the Art in Public Places group is something the city should celebrate.”
Sue Hollern is happy with the roundabout art project, and hopes people are ”thinking and admiring art more.”
”We've completed what we set out to do,” she added.
Time does seem to work its magic. Brawner, who in 2002 wrote the letter decrying ”the evil swan,” has now changed his tune.
”The chicken thing is no big deal,” said Brawner. ”This town is going nuts, but what the heck, I like it.”
Jeff Dearing, the owner of the Parrilla Grill, which abuts the roundabout, used to think ”Phoenix Rising” was hideous, but professes that the iconic sculpture has grown on him.
”It's quite the landmark,” said Dearing. ”I think of all the roundabout art, it's the one that sticks out the most.”
Answers to quiz on D1
A. Grizzly - Franklin Avenue & Eight Street
B. Phoenix Rising - Galveston Avenue & 14th Street
C. Migration - Newport Avenue & College Way
D. Bueno Homage to the Buckaroo - Newport Avenue & Ninth Street
E. Redsides - Colorado & Simpson avenues
F. Centennial Logger - Reed Market Road & Alderwood Circle
G. Sunrise Spirit Column - Mt. Washington Drive & NW Crossing Drive
H. Mule Deer - Simpson Avenue & 14th Street
I. Might of the Workforce - Butler Market Road & Eighth Street
J. Earth Song - NW Crossing Drive & Shevlin Park Road
K. Orb 1 - Mt. Washington Drive & Skyliners Road
L. Atilt, Sunra and Garden Gate - Newport Avenue & 14th Street
M. Mt. Bachelor Compass - Mt. Washington & Century drives
N. Centennial Planter - Reed Market Road at Farewell Bend Park
Roundabout odds and ends
* Of the city's 21 existing roundabouts, only three are east of Third Street (although more have been proposed along Reed Market Road), and only two of those have art.
* Ironically, Bend's first roundabout was almost built on the city's east side, at the intersection of 27th Street and Neff Road. Neighborhood opposition scuttled the proposal, however, according to The Bulletin's archives.
* Pedestrians are not allowed on a roundabout, according to the city.
* Roundabout art is paid for by Art In Public Places, a Bend-based nonprofit arts group started in 1973.
* Art In Public Places donates the art to the city, which is then responsible for its maintenance.
* In 2003, an uninsured driver destroyed the ”S” in the ”Mt. Bachelor Compass” roundabout, and the city had to pay for its repairs.
* The average cost of the 14 roundabout pieces is $50,396.
* The most expensive piece is ”Mt. Bachelor Compass,” at $100,000.
* Mel Katz, the creator of ”Atilt, Sunra and Garden Gate,” is the ex-husband of Portland's former longtime Mayor Vera Katz.
* ”Phoenix Envy,” a 6-foot-tall plywood cutout of Michaelangelo's ”David,” that was mysteriously planted in one of Bend's roundabouts during the height of the roundabout controversy, was purchased by AIPP member Sue Hollern. It sits in her garage.
* At least two of the roundabout art installations have small identifying plaques located on sidewalks across from the roundabout. They were part of a project begun by AIPP that was put off, but the remaining plaques will be installed in the spring, said Cate O'Hagan, a member of AIPP.