Norman Arts Council Announces Selection of Artist for First Norman Forward 1% for Art Project

Norman Arts Council is pleased to announce the selection of artist Mark Aeling of MGA Sculpture Studio to create the first public art piece made possible through the Norman Forward 1% for Art Program.

The proposed 20-foot sculpture titled SPLASH will be installed at the renovated Westwood Recreational Complex, set to be unveiled with the re-opening of the complex — which includes water slides, lazy river, lap pool, diving area and expanded tennis facilities — this summer. SPLASH captures the interplay of the swim facilities and nearby tennis courts with bold colors and a playful scale and design that matches the City of Norman’s desire for an exciting place for Norman families to congregate and enjoy our community.

“This sculpture in particular takes into consideration the needs of the Westwood Aquatic Center by creating an iconic image that is active and vibrant, fun and playful, while still carrying with it several layers of meaning and interpretation,” Aeling said in his narrative for the piece, which will be constructed from powder-coated aluminum and steel. “The large ball form, caught in the moment in time as it strikes the surface of the water, unites the two worlds of Westwood: The tennis facility and the water recreation area.”

Aeling is an accomplished, award-winning artist with over 25 years of experience creating large scale, public art pieces. Past clients include the Florida Aquarium, Sea World, Six Flags, the St. Louis Zoo, Anheuser Busch and more. He was also hired to make sculptures for the Oscar-winning, Robin Williams-starring What Dreams May Come in 1998. He relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida from St. Louis, Missouri in 2005.

The $100,000 project sought artists through an open call for requests for qualifications this past fall, attracting 155 applicants from across the country and world. A selection panel composed of a City of Norman designee, Public Arts Board member, Norman Arts Council board member, Ad Hoc Committee member, the designer/architect of the complex, a stakeholder in the project, arts expert and at large community members deliberated over artist qualifications.

The panel selected three finalists — hailing from Florida, Colorado and California, respectively — that created tailored design proposals inspired by the plans for the complex, as well as the history and culture of Norman. Aeling’s sculpture was finalized as the selected design in December, capping off a stringent, two-month selection process. The artist contract was accepted by the City Council on Tuesday, January 24.

“Norman Arts Council is proud to kick off a new phase of expansion of Norman’s already enviable collection of public art with SPLASH,” said Erinn Gavaghan, executive director of Norman Arts Council. “NAC has been deliberate in developing an intensive, balanced process to amass the highest quality works that we can, and at the conclusion of this slate of Norman Forward 1% for Art projects, our community will have a diverse, impressive selection of public artworks for visitors and citizens to enjoy for generations to come.”

On April 12, 2016, the City of Norman contracted with the Norman Arts Council to administer the 1% for Art program designated for Norman Forward projects. Norman Arts Council’s administrative role includes project development, refining a selection process (including the assembly of balanced selection panels), executing and installing the selected works through coordination between the City and artists and public engagement and education. Debby Williams, who served in similar capacity as director of the Oklahoma Art in Public Places Division for nearly a decade, was selected to manage the 1% for Art program.

“I am thrilled at this opportunity to manage the Norman Forward 1% for Art projects,” Williams said. “After directing public art projects across this state, I am very pleased to be working in my hometown, building this program and integrating public art into the Norman Forward sites.”

SPLASH is the first of many public art projects that will populate Norman through the Norman Forward 1% for Art program. Finalists were just selected for a public art piece to be located at the new East Branch of the Norman Public Library, and another request for qualifications for the proposed new Central Branch of the Norman Public Library will be announced in the coming months.