Students turn Eugene bike racks into public art

EUGENE — Nothing screams Eugene quite as much as an artistically rendered bike rack in front of a health food store.

Two decorative bike "corrals" were inaugurated this month — one outside The Kiva Grocery and the other outside Morning Glory Cafe.

The two new bike parking sculptures were conceived and constructed by Lane Community College art students and the city after they joined forces last year. "This is so adorable," Eugene resident Camille Hall said about The Kiva's "Deer Park" sculpture, which consists of a herd of multicolored metal deer looking every which way. "They are almost like real things to me."

The outlines of blue, teal, yellow, orange and gray bucks, does and fawns are made out of bent metal piping, and stare unconcernedly as cars creep by. Standing on metal base plates sharing their respective colors, the herd looks something like a line of wiry Popsicles melting in the summer sun.

Morning Glory Cafe's "Big Wheel" sculpture is more abstract, with half of a giant bicycle wheel jutting out of the sidewalk complete with rubber tire, spokes and gears. In front of the wheel is a collection of tall metal poles with signs pointing in all directions to Eugene landmarks such as Amazon Park, the Hult Center, Autzen Stadium, the University of Oregon and Alton Baker Park.

The signs themselves note distances to the locations in miles and, appropriately, their approximate travel times by bike.

One sign points directly downward, slapped with the words "You Are Here."

Another artistic corral — titled "Real Wheels" — will be installed in front of the Cornucopia Restaurant next spring. It will include a wagon wheel, bicycle wheel, paddle wheel and others representing several historic modes of transportation.

The corrals convert on-street parking space or other unused curb space into bicycle parking, which the city sees as a creative nod to its nationally ranked biking system. An upgrade from bike racks tucked along sidewalks, the structures are located in the street where cars otherwise would park, helping to legitimize the alternative mode of travel.

"It was a great collaboration," said Laura Hammond, a community outreach coordinator with the city. "It kind of hits a lot of city goals around promoting more alternative modes of transportation, bringing bike parking downtown and enhancing the vitality of downtown."

Guiding the art students' creative efforts for the past year has been Dexter artist Lee Imonen, a sculpture instructor at the community college who also designed the 30-foot-tall sculpture titled "Bountiful" at Eugene's Delta Ponds pedestrian and bicycle bridge.

"Each of (the sculptures) is designed for Eugene in a broad way," Imonen said. "Hopefully, they will become part of the language of the city."

Students in the instructor's Three Dimensional Basic Design class last fall sketched nine different designs for the downtown corrals, which the public reviewed and commented on last winter while the works were on display in the Atrium and Eugene Public Library.

Though the thousands of hours of design and construction labor that went into building the sculptures essentially were donated by students, costs to the city for the purchase of materials were shared by its parking, public art and transportation programs at approximately $4,000 per corral. The idea of combining the bike corrals with public art was inspired by the city's 2010 Public Art Plan, which calls for integrating art into everyday objects from manhole covers to bicycle racks.

The final decision on which designs to proceed with was made by a selection committee comprised of the city's Public Art and Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory committees and others, including representatives from the businesses in front of which the sculptures reside.

The chosen pieces eventually were constructed by a site-specific sculpture class taught by Imonen in the spring. "I was really pleased with the energy that students put into the design phase," the Imonen said.

As to whether pedestrians will understand that the sculptures are designed for bicycles, the instructor said he thinks people will catch on pretty quick.

"In Eugene, people lock their bikes to everything," he said. "We want these to get used."

Imonen said that before he finished installing the final "Deer Park" sculpture Sept. 6, a cyclist already was in the process of locking up a bike to it.

In addition to their utilitarian and aesthetic values, the installations allow students to get their artwork out into the public eye, Hammond said.

"They've experienced adding something to our community that is going to be here for quite a while," she said.

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