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December 12, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST
When Kansas City artist Beth Nybeck first visited the site where the Short Street Parking Garage is currently located, it was just an empty lot. Now, in front of the garage on Walnut Street are three stainless steel waves, rippling across the concrete surface in an upward curve, each end planted to the concrete.
“Tidal Murmur” was installed on Nov. 14 as part of the city’s Percent for Art program. Any improvement project with a budget of more than $1 million can donate one percent of that budget to fund public art installations. Nybeck received $58,000 to construct the sculpture, which she did over the course of six months. An opening ceremony for the garage and sculpture will be announced later.
Kansas City’s Beth Nybeck has created at least 35 public sculptures in the span of four years. Many of them have an element of water; although she can’t quite explain what it is that attracts her to the motif. She mostly works with stainless steel because of its longevity and durability. Here are her three favorite art pieces she has created and the story behind each.
Flight of Idea, 2011 — Flying high, this flock of 21 birds is 100 feet long, 30 feet wide and stretches 25 feet along the John Wayne International Airport terminal ceiling in Orange County, Calif. The concept for the piece was a look at the history of aviation. “I’m really fascinated with innovators and inventors,” Nybeck says. “I wanted to take a look at the story of flight and where it started and where technology has taken it today.”
Crescendo, 2012 — What looks like a huge sideways raindrop at the Indianapolis Art Center is actually a sculpture made of 5,000 acrylic blue tiles, each scribbled with a different story. Nybeck found these stories while she was traveling across the country. She asked strangers she met to name something they’d discovered during their lifetime, and they would write their answers on the tiles. Her youngest participant was 3 years old, and her oldest participant was 103. “It was 100 years of discovery,” Nybeck says. “Sometimes they’re really light and funny things that someone has discovered, and sometimes they’re heart-wrenched things.”
Twist and Shout, 2012 — This dome-like structure was made for the Playable Art Park in Sandy Springs, Ga. All of the sculptures at this park double as playground equipment, and viewers can touch, climb and interact with them. “It's friendly for exploration and discovery and play,” Nybeck says. The sculpture will be installed at the park at a later date.
Yolanda Ciolli, chair of Columbia’s Standing Committee on Public Art, says the committee members don’t have specific criteria for projects, but all of the art is site-specific. Artists were sent blueprints and 3-D renderings of the site, and the committee chose three designs from the pool of applicants that would fit the purpose from both an aesthetic and practical point of view. Then, these choices were put to a city-wide vote, and Nybeck’s design emerged victorious.
At each wave’s highest point, the sculpture stands at 12, 8 and 6 feet tall. Small light fixtures in the ground shine upward, reflecting off the sculpture’s gray-and-white-streaked surface. From far away, the garage looks like it’s home to three silver sea monsters slithering across the ground. “It really brings movement and light to a really tiny space that other art would possibly get lost in because it’s a really bitty spot,” Ciolli says. “It has a completely different look from each angle that you take to look at it from.”
The concept for “Tidal Murmur” came from research Nybeck did on the relationship between natural order and chaos. What she found was the ripple effect, which posits the idea that everyone is connected, and the decisions people make impact the community at large, she says.
When visiting the site west of Brookside Apartments on College and Walnut Street, Nybeck found that there was a unique collection of businesses nearby. “They’re all art-related, so I thought it was a really eclectic community with a lot of energy there, so I really wanted a piece with a lot of energy and dynamic,” Nybeck says.
Sarah Dresser, cultural affairs specialist for the City of Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs, says “Tidal Murmur” is an interaction ready for anyone to experience. People can walk under the waves’ thick arches, stroll around its pointy tails and view its twists and turns from different angles. “You don’t have to be in a museum or gallery to experience art,” Dresser says. “You can be walking by or driving by and have an artistic experience during what may be a dull day.”