Earlier this year, three entities interested in public art began a first-ever collaboration. The 13-member art collective HOMECOMING! Committee, Downtown Fort Worth Inc., and the taxpayer-funded nonprofit Fort Worth Public Art had a meeting. The downtown group offered Burnett Park as a potential worksite. Then someone mentioned “The Eagle.”
“My brain exploded,” said HOMECOMING! co-founder Bradly Brown. “There was such a huge controversy” around the removal of the 39-foot red-orange Alexander Calder sculpture from in front of the Fort Worth National Bank Building (now The Tower) after 17 years, he recalled. “The myth goes, ‘The Eagle’ just flew away in the middle of the night.’ ”
And with that, HOMECOMING! had the makings of its first large-scale endeavor, one funded not entirely by committee members but with some public resources, legitimizing the group that began three years ago chiefly as an excuse for local artists to get together and have fun.
The Eagle Has Landed, HOMECOMING!’s “Eagle”-inspired venture, is under way and has the potential to be one of the most progressive, mind-blowing pieces of public art ever to appear in the Fort. The project will have multiple components, including a sculptural one. Over the next few months, an inflatable mobile modeled after Calder’s stabile and almost as large will begin appearing in seemingly random spots around town before finally settling in Burnett Park, the piece’s “nest,” Brown said.
Though DFWI will provide some funding and FWPA may chip in once the piece is off the ground, do not be mistaken: The Eagle Has Landed is still very much a majority-HOMECOMING! effort. “It is an independent project that has small support by [FWPA and DFWI] because they believe in what we are doing,” said HOMECOMING! co-founder Devon Nowlin. “We have only barely raised funds to cover our material costs,” including 130 yards of fabric and nearly 1,000 yards of thread so far.
Nobody’s saying HOMECOMING!’s imagination has been hamstrung by budgetary constraints, but based on the group’s current and forthcoming projects, a little extra cash would go a long way.
And these guys and gals deserve it. From the group’s first undertaking, a partially crowd-sourced “crewed/crude spaceship,” HOMECOMING! has evolved into a major art-scene player. In addition to exhibiting work at Dallas Museum of Art, CentralTrak, and Oliver Francis Gallery, the committee was recently selected alongside five other Tarrant County artists to participate in the 2013 Texas Biennial, a relatively new statewide showcase of burgeoning Lone Star talent. Only three Tarrant County artists were asked to show in the previous three Biennials combined.
HOMECOMING!’s most recent project may be doomed by a lack of financial resources. Though it’s already been exhibited, it’s only half-done. Here’s the story: As part of the Biennial, the committee produced Fristkt Kopplat, halften brunnet (Quickly connected, half burned), a collection of five crates (none bigger than about 6-by-4-by-3-foot) created from discarded IKEA furniture. On display last month at CentralTrak, the show was inspired by Sweden’s greenness –– apparently, the country has been so successful in transforming garbage into energy that there’s now a trash shortage. Fristkt Kopplat, halften brunnet, “a creative gesture meant to engage in a global dialogue concerning America’s relationship with disposable goods compared to that of Sweden’s,” the committee said, won’t really be complete until the crates are shipped to Sweden to be exhibited (at a location to be determined) and later turned into fuel. Getting the things to Mother Svea, though, isn’t going to be cheap.
“The ironic thing is that when we ship them to Sweden, we will probably have to build crates for the crates, because of international shipping regulations,” Brown said, adding that, not counting manpower hours, the delivery will cost “several thousand” dollars.
PayPal donations via homecomingcommittee.com will help fund Fristkt Kopplat, halften brunnet and a few other ventures, including a 2014 show shrouded in secrecy; MacGuffin, a November exhibit at the Fort Worth gallery And X art gallery that, Brown said, “will involve a hot tub”; and The Eagle Has Landed.
Reflecting HOMECOMING!’s dedication to affecting the cultural conversation, the group’s art always contains a public aspect. The Eagle Has Landed is no different. Through the big, red artwork, the committee hopes to convert more Fort Worthians into art lovers by getting them thinking about public art: what it does, what it doesn’t do, what it should do, what it shouldn’t do, what it’s good for, what it means.
“We want to reignite the interest in art in this city and remind everyone why it’s so important and why it’s so great,” Nowlin said. “Just by having that one man on the street see it –– and recognize it and have this moment of excitement about it –– that’s all it takes. That’s all we’re asking for.”
The piece, Brown added, neatly represents the fiery debate about public art in Fort Worth and arts funding in general. Last week, for the first time in five years, the Fort Worth City Council voted to increase financial support for the Arts Council of Fort Worth, the 50-year-old nonprofit that manages FWPA and distributes taxpayer money to several dozen Tarrant County arts institutions, including Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth Opera, and Texas Ballet Theater. And though the arts council will see its coffers increase $600,310 to $1.4 million total, $400,000 of that will come from the gas well and mineral lease trust fund, a resource that may dwindle soon –– the natural gas in the Barnett Shale, scientists say, is far from unlimited (“Shale Game,” March 13).
“Just because we take away public arts doesn’t mean more potholes are going to be fixed,” Brown said.
The sculptural facet of The Eagle Has Landed is “about 80 percent” complete, Nowlin said. The committee hopes to inflate the piece next weekend. “If that’s successful, then we will then start scheduling the dates for the locations,” she said.
HOMECOMING!’s goal is to begin exhibiting the mobile before Nov. 5, when the council votes on a bond package that may affect FWPA funding.