The sculptor of a large public art project, commissioned by the Kalispell City Council several years ago to be displayed at the intersection of Idaho and Main Streets, is now threatening to sue the city over nonpayment.
The attorney for sculptor Daniel Parker sent an Oct. 14 letter to Kalispell City Manager Jane Howington demanding $15,000 as the second installment in an agreement totaling $25,000. Parker was already paid the $10,000.
“The delay on the part of the City has resulted in the doubling of the cost of copper,” attorney Thane Johnson wrote. “If the City fails to comply with this demand we will have no choice but to file an action in District Court.”
Howington said the city is not in violation of any contract and won’t use public funds to pay for the sculptures.
“We don’t, obviously, feel that we have a requirement to do that, so there’s a disagreement,” Howington said. “Using that type of money for that type of discretionary thing is not, in my view, appropriate.”
Funds were set aside by the council to pay Sherry Sander for the first bronze sculpture of two deer in fiscal year 2008, with the intent of erecting that and three more large sculptures at the corners of U.S. Highways 93 and 2 in Kalispell, where the two coast-to-coast highways intersect. Officials at the Hockaday Museum of Art were tasked with supervising the project. The deer sculpture is completed and now in storage, after the project was put on hold when the declining economy necessitated cuts to the city budget. During her campaign for mayor, Tammi Fisher pointed to spending on the statues as a sign that Kalispell needed new leadership.
Howington, who was not employed by Kalispell when the project was conceived, said the original plan was to pay for the sculptures by splitting the proceeds between the city and artist for the sale of maquettes, or miniature versions of the sculptures.
“There was never supposed to be any taxpayer dollars involved in the sculptures,” she said. “They would be paid for by the maquettes.”
“At some point in the process,” Howington added, the city council decided “they didn’t want to wait.”
According to the letter, Parker has completed 30 maquettes of his grizzly bear sculpture and is ready to finish the “heroic” size version.
Howington said while she generally supports public art, she believes putting those large statues at the corners of the intersection could be a safety hazard, blocking the views of drivers. The city attorney will now contact Johnson to assess the next step.
“We’re also not going to try this thing in the media and in the public,” Howington added. “Where it goes from here, I don’t know.”