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2015 Downsville Eagle Streetscape Art Project – Pio Deroda
[Above slideshow is of some of the eagles being repaired]
In 2014, after trying to help Art Merrill, my partner, restore his building historically after the Eagle Dollar went out of business, I came up with the idea of a Streetscape of eagles lining the mainstreet. Art had created a Grants Committee, to try to get funding, and a Design Committee, to take inventory of physical buildings, parks, etc, which I was part of, and we had achieved some small grants ($50,000 and under), but the larger funders (TAP, DOS,TEP,CWC) were telling us the town lacked cohesiveness, especially the Main Street area, which is where all economic development begins. I imagined eagles, which we had been seeing more regularly in the area, looking as though they were flying around up and down mainstreet that would create a visual continuity from each end of town.
I started designing the eagles (it was important they be life size and also realistic looking) and looking for carvers, first locally and then statewide, this took 6 months. It was difficult to find anyone who would carve exactly what I envisioned, and cost was also an issue.
I applied for, and received 3 different grants for this project, which entailed writing bios, taking pictures of previous works, and getting commitment letters for money I didn’t yet have, and talked the carvers into working for a fraction of what they normally are paid. Most weekends I spent traveling up in the mountains (minimum 5 hrs roundtrip) trying to convince people to participate. Thankfully one carver, the North American chainsaw champion, now a good friend, believed in the project and agreed to carve. Then many other reluctant carvers participated.
In applying for this National and State funding, (through National Endowment of the Arts) I needed a sponsor, or someone to filter the money through as they do not give money to individuals. I could not find an organization in town that would do this (I approached the Chamber about it, and tried to create a nonprofit in July- we had to prove no one else would sponsor me, so this is a written record). Since I couldn’t find a sponsor, the Arts Committee paired me with the Walton Library. Municipalities cannot usually fund Arts grants, but because I wanted to keep the project in town we received Senate letters of support, and proved we had no one else to do so. Therefore, the Town of Colchester became my sponsor.
Art and I then spent the winter driving around inspecting and collecting the eagles, (We were not paid nor compensated for any of this time or gas by the way) and forwarding the money as we had not received grant monies yet.
Because the eagles were bought for a pittance, most were not finished and the wood was wet. As per artist instruction, they were left natural and sealed with oils when they were dry enough. This would minimize cracking of the wood and flaking of the finish. I did this myself in my barn each night after work for months. Then I started designing the postcards, brochures and posters and getting approval from the artists for this.
In March 2015, Ronnie Macdonald and Mark Butcher saved me thousands of dollars by fabricating the steel poles and platforms. In April, Art, Ronnie, Paul Burns, Jim Shields, and Sterling Murphy installed these. The Schoolhouse lent their crew for the day, but mostly Art and I, or Art and Paul were out there each night installing them by ourselves.
In November, as stated in the Grant, Art and I took the eagles down. A Streetscape art project is not meant to be a permanent installation, the idea is to generate new interest and ideas each year, and to generate funds to help the Mainstreet in other ways. I had hoped to auction them off, but found out after receiving the grant, this was not allowed. We then thought we could put them out along trails, but they were in danger of splitting apart and they needed to be kept “undamaged”. The town does not have the manpower nor funds to fix these yearly.
I publicized an Adopt an Eagle campaign for businesses in town to put an eagle in a window, the only cost was a donation for postcards since the artists need to be recognized with the displayed work, I have had no takers, and I understand, we do not have a thriving downtown.
In the fall, I “gave” the eagles to the Town, under the same contractual obligations I had signed upon receiving the grants, as these must be forwarded with the artproject, or you need to pay the Grants back. Basically, the artproject cannot be altered or damaged, the art is public, the artists must be given recognition when displayed, and the continuing streetscape must have an arts curator who can follow this. Because the artproject needed a curator, and I was the one who had done it, I continued, to ensure the project is not a burden on the town board, and the stipulations are followed so we don’t have to give back the money.
I wouldn’t say this makes me in “CHARGE”, by the way, I welcome, indeed beg, other people to participate and help in this and have solicited ideas and proposals over the town website. Last year I tried to involve the Chamber and the car theme, this year the Best Dam 5k ran the Streetscape. This could be a great money and audience generating project as it is in other towns, if people would come together and help. Or, it will degenerate.
The eagles are stored in our barn so I can fix them when time permits. I welcome help. Anyone who has contacted me about this, I have responded to. It’s an arduous process involving toxic epoxies. You need a large well ventilated space and the ability to (carefully- as some of the beaks are fragile) turn the eagles over and lay them down. Most of them have 5 or more 1/2 -1″ cracks down their sides. This is the process I have been given by the carvers. Alternatively, I have been quoted $200+ per eagle to have these fixed. Please contact me if this is something you can do. You will be given directions to follow and a release form to sign.
Normally when you have chainsaw carvings outside, they are coated or tared and the gaps are just filled yearly. We do not really have the manpower or funds to do this, also many of our carvers do not sell their works to be left outside anymore. Three of them now have pieces in museums. I was told by a museum curator that our streetscape helped people recognize this as a true artform.
We are in the process of trying to get funds for a simple wood pavilion to house the skating rink… (no, the town does not have a grant writer, but I have been doing this for over 20 years and received millions of dollars for people- the grants committee looked into hiring a grants consultant in 2014, they wanted a 6 figure salary. We were told by County Planning we could do it ourselves) the eagles could be displayed under cover in this.
[Some of the eagles being repaired *same as photos in slideshow*]