Fr. Austin Collins, C.S.C., helping South Bend launch roundabout public art project

Author: Marianne FitzGerald

SOUTH BEND — Three years after they opened to help distribute traffic more evenly through the downtown’s new Smart Streets, South Bend’s three Michigan Street roundabouts could soon take on an additional mission: beautify the city while perhaps sparking some discussion about art.

Potentially as soon as Friday, the city plans to erect sculptures in the middle of the roundabouts at Chippewa Avenue, Marion Street and Bartlett Street. They are existing works by the Rev. Austin Collins, a Notre Dame priest and professor of sculpture, on loan from Collins for a year.

The city wants to have the pieces installed over the next two weeks, with Chippewa happening on Friday and the other two on Saturday if a crane is available. Since the city might need to close some lanes in the roundabouts during the installations, doing it this weekend would be ideal since it’s an away game for Notre Dame football, said Cara Grabowski, city spokeswoman.

The city has applied for and won a $5,000 Arts Everywhere grant from the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County, matching it with $5,000 in city money. That money will cover the costs of renovating, installing and removing the pieces.

“The Temple Carousel,” a sculpture planned for the Chippewa roundabout, stood at South Bend International Airport from 1998 until it was taken down by the airport about five years ago. It had been stored there ever since and needed to be sandblasted, repaired and painted.

“You go through the two extremes in this climate, the extreme heat and the extreme cold,” Collins said. “There was actually some water damage that needed to be repaired.”

Collins had lent other pieces to the city of Chicago, which had displayed them in parks along the lakefront in recent years.

“Wedding Cakes,” a four-piece series, will be installed at the Marion roundabout. Each piece, about 10 feet tall, will be a different color.

The sculpture at the Bartlett roundabout will comprise three pieces, one of them reaching about 30 feet into the air. They will feature fern leaves and will be similar in appearance to one that now stands in Notre Dame’s Sculpture Park.

Collins said he was impressed that the city of South Bend, when building the roundabouts, included 10-foot-by-10-foot cement sculpture pads that are five feet deep.

Jitin Kain, the city’s community investment director, said public art was always planned for the roundabouts but there isn’t yet any money earmarked to pay for it. That’s why Collins’ willingness to lend his work for a year for free is so critical to starting the project.

“Unless area artists have sculptures in their inventory to exhibit, we will need to assemble funding to launch a future art initiative,” Kain said.

Other cities with public art in roundabouts, including Carmel, Ind., Denver, Tampa and Bend, Ore., have commissioned art in roundabouts with both public and private money.

“We will rely heavily on applying (for) grants to fund this but it could be a mixture of both,” Kain said.

Collins said he is happy to help the city get it started.

“I’m really honored to do this,” Collins said. “I believe in the roundabouts and I think it’s a nice pattern for transportation and moving traffic, but I think also the public art is a very important thing for every city.”

Grabowski agreed.

“The one thing that’s attractive about public art, to the city,” she said, “is it adds color and vibrancy, it enhances quality of life, it ignites conversation, and it ignites imagination.”