Community celebrates unveiling of four new sculptures in downtown Muskegon

Larry Sybesma’s “Wisdom” is one of four sculptures recently added to downtown Muskegon. Photo by Anna Gustafson

While this summer’s Lakeshore Art Festival was canceled due to Covid-19, community leaders were determined to still honor the annual event’s 2020 theme, “The Art of Recycling,” with a celebration of four new sculptures in downtown Muskegon this week.

Created by West Michigan artists, the new sculptures were unveiled during a ceremony Wednesday evening and are made from at least 90 percent of recycled materials donated by PADNOS, a regional recycling company based in Muskegon. 

“We’re really excited about this and are really proud of the artists,” Kurt Alderink, of PADNOS, told the crowd gathered at the Olthoff Stage in downtown Muskegon Wednesday. “It’s a great addition to Muskegon as a community.”

PADNOS, the Lakeshore Art Festival and the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce partnered to launch the PADNOS Public Art Project, which resulted in the sculptures from artists Sherri Balaskovitz, of Muskegon; Chip Vander Wier, of Muskegon; Larry Sybesma, of Holland; and EA-Craftworks, a Grand Rapids-based group comprised of four artists: Mark Schentzel, Alex Kallio, Tom Hutchins and Jack Cantu. The sculptures were originally slated to be a part of the Lakeshore Art Festival, which was scheduled for July 3 and 4 but, like major events around the world, was canceled due to concerns over Covid-19.

Individuals attending Wednesday’s ceremony take a look at artist Sherri Balaskovitz’s “The Prize Steelhead.” Photo by Anna Gustafson
Sherri Balaskovitz’s “The Prize Steelhead” is located by the Olthoff Stage at Western Avenue and Third Street in downtown Muskegon. Photo by Anna Gustafson

Balaskovitz’s “The Prize Steelhead” is located by the Olthoff Stage, just across from the Frauenthal Center; EA-Craftworks’ “Perplexed Structure” is situated outside of Unruly Brewery; Vander Wier’s “Chrysalis” can be found at the Muskegon Farmers’ Market; and Sybesma’s “Wisdom” is at the Western Market chalets, by Western Avenue and First Street. The sculptures will be shown in downtown Muskegon throughout the summer, and they are all available for purchase. One of the pieces may be permanently located downtown should the city decide to buy it. 

The PADNOS Public Art Project was funded by PADNOS, Quality Tool & Stamping, Clifford Buck Construction Company, and a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. It cost a total of about $15,000.

Those gathered at Wednesday’s celebration emphasized that public art plays an important role in the area’s creative landscape at any point—but is particularly vital in a community that is struggling in the wake of Covid-19. 

“This means a lot to us because we have 350 artists from all over the country who now cannot come [to the Lakeshore Art Festival]; we have food trucks that cannot be here; we have a downtown area impacted economically,” said Carla Flanders, who championed the PADNOS project while director of the Lakeshore Art Festival.

Carla Flanders, pictured at Wednesday’s ceremony, championed the efforts to bring the PADNOS Public Art Project to downtown Muskegon. Photo by Anna Gustafson
EA-Craftworks’ “Perplexed Structure” is situated outside of Unruly Brewery. Photo by Anna Gustafson

Flanders and her team at the art festival, which was recently named one of the top 10 art festivals in the country, launched the idea of a recycled art project a couple years ago as part of the festival’s emphasis on the environment, Flanders explained. 

“Everything we’ve done with the Lakeshore Art Festival has been on the cutting edge of recycling and the environment,” said Flanders, who has long been an environmentalist and has a degree in environmental science. 

The annual art event, for example, was the first festival on the lakeshore to do composting, and it further focused on environmental efforts by providing reusable drinking cups and not using styrofoam goods.

Now, with these sculptures, Flanders hopes the public will not only be able to consider the impact of recycling as they view them, but will connect in person with a city and a downtown that is trying to regain footing after much of it was shut down for months in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“There’s so much public art downtown, and now we have four more beautiful sculptures, all from West Michigan artists,” Flanders said. “We’re hopeful that one piece will stay downtown; that was my vision and hope.”

Chip Vander Wier’s “Chrysalis” can be found at the Muskegon Farmers’ Market. Photo by Anna Gustafson
Chip Vander Wier’s “Chrysalis.” Photo by Anna Gustafson

Emily Morgenstern, the communications manager at the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, too emphasized the wide array of public art in the city. [You can see a map of the public art in Muskegon by clicking here.]

“We have over 40 public art pieces here in downtown Muskegon, and we’re so excited to introduce these four new ones here,” Morgenstern said.

Balaskovitz, whose sculpture was inspired by the charter boats and fishing in Muskegon, said she was thrilled to be a part of this project. 

“I think art is an inspiration for everybody,” she said. “It pulls emotion from people, and I think that’s a great thing.”

The sculptures, and public art in general, can spur important dialogue and further provide a sense of pride in Muskegon, City of Muskegon Mayor Stephen Gawron said at Wednesday’s ceremony.

“Matter doesn’t disappear; it changes form,” Gawron said. “It recycles. It recycles into forms of creativity, expression, beauty, visual challenge, and, here, changes the form and atmosphere of our public space.”

“Thank you for providing a stretching of our views, of our thoughts, of our environment, and a chance for wonder and joy in being here,” the mayor said to the artists.

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Story and photos by Anna Gustafson. Connect with Anna by emailing or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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