City moves forward with $325,000 public art project for police headquarters and adjoining park

photo by: Hoefer Wysocki

This rendering shows a design concept for a new Lawrence Police Department headquarters in northwest Lawrence.

A $325,000 public art project for the city’s new police headquarters is moving forward, and the selected artist says he sees the project as an opportunity to build an interactive piece that helps build connections within the community.

Lawrence City Commissioners approved an agreement with the artist as part of its meeting this week, and the first public meeting to develop the concept design for the project will occur in the coming months. Following the recommendation of the Cultural Arts Commission, city commissioners approved a contract with artist Joe O’Connell of Creative Machines Inc.

The project will be at the city-owned parkland next to the police headquarters near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive, and O’Connell said he sees the project as an opportunity to build connections between the police and the public in a way that serves the community. He said he always looks for projects that are at interesting junctions, and that the city’s project attracted him because of that aspect.

“What we’re really interested in is the overlapping spaces where different civic functions converge, because that’s where people are kind of open-minded and rub against one another,” O’Connell said. “If you can make an object that encourages conversation, that’s a good thing.”

The project is funded by the city’s long-standing Percent for Art program, which allows city leaders to set aside up to 2% of a building project’s budget for public art. The funding is a percentage of the city’s $19.5 million police headquarters process, which will be finished in early 2021. The parkland, which currently has walking trails, is also the site of a future park.

The city selected O’Connell following a national request for qualifications that sought a professional artist or artistic team to develop innovative artwork that was “an integrated aspect of park amenities.” The city received 39 artist applications for the project and an eight-person panel made up of artists, designers, police, municipal services and parks and recreation officials selected O’Connell and his firm.

In 1995, O’Connell founded the design and fabrication firm Creative Machines, which creates interactive exhibits, ball machines and large-scale artwork, according to the Creative Machines website. It has created works for museums, science centers, libraries, hospitals, university campuses, transit stops and other public spaces. O’Connell said his firm also likes to do community workshops to help develop the concepts for its pieces.

According to the agreement with the city, O’Connell will hold at least two public meetings, by video conference or in person if possible, to gather community and city staff input on the concept for the design and its development. Those meetings will take place within the first four months of 2021. A concept design proposal that also includes the specific location selected for the piece will go to the Cultural Arts Commission and the City Commission for review.

As part of the meetings, O’Connell said he will provide some examples of his work and other public artwork to help guide the process. He said that over the last few years his firm has been trying to do more outdoor art with some active components that encourage people to interact with the piece and each other. For example, he said he’s working on a piece near a trail in Tucson, Ariz., that looks like a bicycle wheel. He said the spokes have tiny water jets that can cool off cyclists and function as a splash park area for kids.

According to the agreement, the concept design for the project will be submitted to the city for review within the second quarter of 2021. Once the concept design is approved, detailed working plans will be submitted within 45 days for structural and other reviews. It’s estimated the project will be built and installed before the end of next year.


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