City's monument to the millennium

Sculpture: Residents and visitors will be allowed to express their thoughts and dreams for the future on the city's planned "Millennium Message."

October 18, 1999|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Baltimore plans to celebrate the New Year by building a "Millennium Resolution Sculpture" that's designed to give city residents and others an opportunity to express their hopes and dreams for 2000 and beyond.

"Turning Point: Mankind's Millennium Message" is the title of the public sculpture, whose preliminary design has elements of a sundial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, an artist's blank canvas and the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge.

It will be erected on city-owned land next to the McKeldin Fountain near Pratt and Light streets as part of a series of activities that Baltimore's Office of Promotion is coordinating to ring in the New Year.

Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Office of Promotion, said the city is building the interactive sculpture as a way to encourage people to come together and celebrate the New Year.

Over the centuries, he said, people have made New Year's resolutions and shared them mostly with friends or relatives or kept them to themselves.

"We thought the new millennium was an opportunity to do something more celebratory and that people could share their resolutions" with others, he said. "What better way to get them to do that than to commission a piece of public art to celebrate something that has been somewhat secretive?"

The sculpture will be in place from Dec. 16 to Jan. 3. Gilmore said he hopes it will attract a wide range of people curious to see what messages others leave behind and make their own contributions.

"Part of the excitement is the unknown," he said. "We've never done it before. We don't know what to expect. As it begins to be used and people interact with it, we think it will take on a life of its own."

To find a designer for the sculpture, the promotion office sponsored a limited competition earlier this year. After reviewing half a dozen submissions, the city chose to work with three employees from a local architecture firm, Development Design Group: Stewart White, Jesse Turner and Michael Peters.

Their proposal called for construction of a circle of 10-foot-tall tablets or panels that could double as posting boards for messages. At the center of the circle will be a 35-foot-tall obelisk.

Visitors will be given "resolution cards" and encouraged to write messages about the millennium and attach them to the panels, or draw on chalk boards. They also may bring materials to leave behind, the way visitors do at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Some participants may be invited to record their messages for broadcasting on a tape loop that would run continuously in McKeldin Plaza. The plaza may also become a setting for performances by local artists and a sidewalk cafe.

White, an art director at Development Design Group, said he hopes to get contributions from school groups and already has solicited messages from his daughter's class.

Turner said he wants people to think seriously about their messages to the future.

"We're not talking about quitting smoking or going on a diet," he said. "We're talking about resolutions for life in the new millennium. We're already getting messages about stopping violence, saving the environment, promoting world peace. This is a one-in-a-thousand New Year's Eve. We just want people to see what the opportunity is and respond to it."

Public officials have budgeted $100,000 from the city's general fund for millennium-related activities, Gilmore said, and a full schedule of events will be announced tomorrow.

Out of the $100,000, the city is spending $10,000 for the sculpture, in the form of an honorarium to the design team. With that amount, the winners must finish the design, gather building materials and fabricate the sculpture.

Although a preliminary model bears some resemblance to Stonehenge, the English circle of mega-liths that dates from around 1700 B. C., the creators say that the design is still evolving and will not be a replica of Stonehenge.

They say the panels will be made of painted plywood, arranged in a circle about 50 feet in diameter and illuminated at night. They are seeking contributions of building materials, labor and other services as a way to keep costs down. They can be reached at 410-962-0505.

The designers say they don't know what will happen to the contributions from the public after the monument comes down Jan. 3. One idea is to display them in an exhibit in a local museum.

Some of the handwritten messages may be lost or marred by exposure to the weather, but the designers say that's part of the resolution process, too. "The transient nature of paper posted in the elements is a metaphor for time," they say.

"The pasting over of one's message by another's is a metaphor for time. The transient nature of the spoken word is a metaphor for time."

Many consider Jan. 1, 2001 to be the beginning of the new millennium, rather than Jan. 1, 2000, but Turner said that's not a problem.

If it's a success, he said. "we can do it again next year."

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