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Crosstown Art

Rhodes students create public art for the V&E Greenline.



The western end of the V&E Greenline in the Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhood has been dominated by the looming, vacant Sears Crosstown building for years, but come April, another landmark may steal some of its spotlight.

Eighteen students in Rhodes College's public art class are in the process of designing and creating a $10,000 sculpture to be placed at the greenline's western end.

Ben Butler, a Rhodes assistant professor and sculptor, designed the course with the goal to complete an outdoor installation. A colleague at Rhodes suggested the V&E Greenline as a site.

"I'm getting into public art a bit more, and it seemed like something that the students would really be interested in," said Butler, who recently installed a sculpture for a donor wall at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital and has worked with the UrbanArt Commission on various public art projects.

It's no coincidence that the handful of students who helped Butler with the Le Bonheur sculpture for the last six months also are participating in the public art course. With such a momentous task built into the course, Butler pursued art majors and other students who'd taken his sculpture classes before, hoping to create a solid group with experience under their belts.

"I thought it would be wonderful to interact with the community and create something permanent, which makes designing the course challenging," Butler said. "I was really relying on the students to bring a lot to the class."

Within the first three weeks of the course, students submitted sketches and proposals to the V&E Greenline committee. The committee narrowed down the submissions to five.

A few of the top proposals feature train themes since the V&E Greenline runs along an old rail track. One includes a train engine constructed from recycled materials, and another features train tracks that twist up into the air. A third proposal incorporates train materials into a dragon sculpture, an homage to the area's Vietnamese population.

Other ideas include sculptures of large concrete people with flowers growing out of their heads and a garden of fluted gramophones that connect underground and carry noise back and forth.

"A lot of artists who are accustomed to making public art are also accustomed to the myriad challenges and obstacles to the creativity involved," said Butler, citing vandalism deterrence and weatherproofing, among other things. "I was interested in seeing what students who are very creative come up with immediately, maybe without considering all those things."

The five groups will present their revised proposals to the greenline committee next week, and the entire class will create and install the winning proposal. Funding will come from grants and Rhodes' Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts. The sculpture is expected to be finished by the end of April.

Butler said the students' work has been inspiring.

"I told them to dream big," he said. "Here's your site; what could you put here?"

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