Ask ELi: Technicolor Virgin Mary on Coolidge Road?

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Friday, December 27, 2019, 5:55 am
Chris Gray

Photos by Raymond Holt.

Our Ask ELi to Investigate service recently brought in this question: What's the story behind the newly erected "crazy quilt" statue of the Virgin Mary on Coolidge [Road] just past The Willows, near a newly constructed building?

The Virgin Mary has made a new appearance in East Lansing, coming in the form of a fiberglass statue painted in a checkered quilt of many colors like the coat of the Old Testament Joseph.

The seven-foot-tall statue, the creation of Cincinnati artist Jonpaul Smith, has been installed at the entrance drive to a new geriatric psychiatric inpatient facility on Coolidge Road near Coleman Road.

The artwork fulfills the developer’s legal obligation under East Lansing’s Percent for Art law, Ordinance 1339, enacted in 2014. That law mandates that developers commit the equivalent of one percent of their big commercial project costs to public art.

East Lansing appears to be the only community in Michigan that requires art for private projects as well as public ones. Under Ordinance 1339, developers can either install art on site or donate art or the money to East Lansing’s Public Art Fund.

The ordinance only applies to developments that cost more than $500,000, and projects with fewer than four residential units are also exempt.

Jessy Gregg, East Lansing City Council member and liaison to the Arts Commission, explains, “When the developer chooses their own artwork, the only thing that is decided by the Arts Commission is [whether] the project meets the definition of art according to our ordinance.”

The amount required to be spent for a project is capped at $25,000 and in this particular case, the cap was reached because the total construction project cost was estimated at $3.5 million.

The $25,000 budget for the project included a $7,000 artist’s commission. The pop art take on a religious icon was commissioned by the real estate developer, Leo Brown Group of Indianapolis.

In his proposal, which was reviewed by the East Lansing Arts Commission in February 2019, Smith explained: “This sculpture represents the idea of a familiar, welcoming human form. This form has deep historic roots but I hope to push this into the contemporary realm. My interpretation will have an intricate pattern enveloping the entirety of the form/sculpture.”

The sculpture has a foam core encased in fiberglass, which Smith said should withstand Michigan weather.

Smith said in his proposal that he believes that “the boldness of ... the vibrant color of the weave will enhance the natural beauty of the campus through complementing the proposed landscaping plan.”

He also wrote, “I can visualize this sculpture catching the eye of visitors to the building, those walking along Coolidge Road or on the buildings campus.”

That seems to be right based on our reader’s submission.

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