What began in 2011 as an ambitious project to bring public art to downtown Salina and showcase some of the most gifted sculptors in the country has now been mostly embraced by the community after several initial years of skepticism, according to Mike Hoppock, chairman of SculptureTour Salina since its inception in 2011.
"People are more accepting of public art now," said Hoppock, who also is Salina's current mayor. "The sculptures have inspired people and helped educate the whole community on different types of art."
During its 10 years, SculptureTour Salina has exhibited nearly 200 sculptures along Santa Fe Avenue and the Lee District of downtown Salina. Sculptures are mounted along the streets each spring, where they can be viewed for a year until they are switched out for an entirely new set of artwork.
"It's great to see downtown transform once a year, taking on a new look because of all the sculptures," Hoppock said. "I think people look forward to it because we change pieces every year and they don't know what to expect."
Many of the sculptures have stayed in Salina. During the last 10 years, 34 sculptures have been privately purchased by local businesses and individuals, and nine pieces have been selected as People's Choice winners.
The People's Choice winner, selected each year by a community vote, is purchased by the city of Salina for up to $15,000 and placed on public property in the city. Previous People's Choice winners have been permanently displayed in Oakdale Park, Jerry Ivey Park, the City-County Building, the Salina Soccer Complex, Tony's Pizza Events Center, the Smoky Hill Museum and other Salina locations.
For its 10th anniversary, not even a pandemic will be able to stop a new set of sculptures from being unveiled.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, 19 new sculptures will be introduced along Santa Fe Avenue, primarily between Mulberry and Elm streets. Works by sculptors from five different states, including three local artists, will be showcased.
Penny Bettles, director of Salina Downtown Inc., said she was worried the COVID-19 pandemic would prevent this year's sculpture tour from happening, but the tour committee voted to move forward with the exhibit even though sculptures would be unveiled later in the year than usual.
"A lot of people were excited that we decided to continue this," Bettles said. "With all the other things being canceled this year like the (Kenwood Cove) pool and Smoky Hill River Festival, it gave people something to be excited about."
That's not to say things won't be a little different at this year's unveiling, Bettles said. Sculptures are being mounted on permanent pedestals on just four blocks of Santa Fe Avenue, and although there will be a simultaneous unveiling with the assistance of many volunteers, food and entertainment will not be available as in past years.
"People are still invited to come downtown, see the unveiling and take the tour while maintaining social distancing precautions," she said.
Visitors attending Saturday's unveiling can still vote for the People's Choice award by picking up a ballot at the Visit Salina trailer, which will be parked at the north side of Ad Astra Books & Coffee House, 141 N. Santa Fe.
"They can turn in their ballots that day for a chance to win Smoky Hill Silver gift certificates," Bettles said.
There also will be juried art awards presented Saturday afternoon that includes Best of Show ($2,000), 1st and 2nd Place Bronze ($1,000 and $500 respectively) and 1st and 2nd place Other Media ($1,000 and $500).
Local artists whose work was selected for this year's SculptureTour Salina are Robert Peck, Sunny Corbett and Timothy Rickman. Other Kansas sculptors are Tim Chapman of Hays and Rollin Karg of Kechi.
Sculptors from other states include Jodie Bliss, Justin Diester, Sandy Friedman, James Haire, Andy Libertone and Reven Marie Swanson, all of Colorado; Ben Pierce and Chris Wubbena of Missouri; Gregory Johnson, Georgia; George Tobolowsky, Texas; and Dale Lewis, Minnesota.
Bettles said that while all the sculptures have interesting stories behind them, one by Sandy Friedman, of Colorado Springs, Colo., particularly moved her.
"He was a first responder to a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs in 2015," she said. "His sculpture, 'Love is the Answer,' has three rings that represent the three lives that were lost there, as well as the three responders — fireman, medic and policeman — who were at the scene."
The sculpture has been placed in front of the American State Bank & Trust building at 317 S. Santa Fe, Bettles said.
No reception this year
There won't be a traditional reception for the sculptors this year, Hoppock said. The only out-of-town contributor who plans to be present at Saturday's unveiling is Dale Lewis, whose whimsical sculptures of a hippo and elephant were previous People's Choice winners and are permanently placed at the Smoky Hill Museum and Tony's Pizza Events Center.
"Hopefully we can have a better reception next year for the artists," he said.
As always, Hoppock said, all sculpture installations are financed through grants and private donations and will be on sale during the yearlong exhibit.
Hoppock said the success of SculptureTour Salina would not be possible without the contributions of Grain Belt Supply, which creates the plaques for the sculptures, and Harbin Construction and Precision Electric, which do the installations.
"They have been tremendous sponsors over the years," he said.
The 10-year success of SculptureTour Salina is not only due to the many private donors and businesses that have contributed financially to it, Hoppock said, but also the many volunteers and community members who have supported it through the years in an effort to make downtown Salina a vital place to visit.
"Now, with the renovation that's been done, it's more important than ever that we keep getting people downtown," Hoppock said. "This sculpture tour will be a big part of that."