In January, the City of Ithaca Common Council will be voting on whether to approve two new public art sculptures that have been met with mixed reviews from residents. The intriguing new sculptures would both be placed in local parks, and haev already been passed by the Community Life Commission. 

“Anthropocene” was inspired by the definition of the word which is, “the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.” The sculpture is the brainchild of Monica Fransiscus and Tom Hirschl, two Cornell University professors who see the sculpture as a statement on climate change. The overall message of the sculpture, according to Fransiscus, is sustainability. 

“Originally, we looked up what is the biggest cause of climate change,” Fransiscus said. “It’s the car that causes these greenhouse gases and Tom’s class deals a lot with inequality, poverty, sustainability, the end of the industrial revolution, robots in the workplace and income disparity […] Then we thought let’s use car parts, they’re free. I also didn’t want to buy stuff or make stuff.” 

When considering the design, Fransiscus said she wanted a ring and chose the color palette based on the heat zones of the Earth. She wants to paint what would be the North and South Pole’s chrome, representing Antarctica and the arctic. The mid zones of the sculpture would be red and orange. This leaves the remaining zones as agricultural areas, which would be green and blue.

This piece will include solar lights as well. The piece is ready to go but the piece is still awaiting approval from Common Council. However, there has been some push back to the statue being located in Baker Park, expressed by attendees at this month’s Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting. One concern was what would happen to the sculpture when exposed to Ithaca’s waterfront conditions for an extended time, something Fransiscus and Hirschl are also nervous about. 

“The foundation needs to be stable,” Fransiscus said, who’d prefer to put it somewhere unexpected. “If it’s near a lot of trees, there are two problems such as affecting the roots and damaging the older trees. Then, if there’s a lot of shade, the solar lights won’t light up. There’s been some discussion of putting it in The Octopus, there’s some city land there. […] There’s no one ever in it. A lot of traffic goes by there.” 

The second sculpture, Tompkins Giant No. 1, is a tribute to the legend of the Taughannock Giant, created by Jared Charzewski and funded by the Community Arts Partnership (CAP). John Spence, executive director of CAP said the project initially began in 2017 when Tom Knipe, who then worked with the Tompkins County Tourism department and the Strategic Tourism Planning Board met with Spence, Jennifer Tavares from the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce and others to consider the purchase and installation of a piece of sculpture. 

By spring 2020, the sculpture should be completed and, if approved, housed at Cass Park, along the waterfront trail. The 20-foot sculpture will be made of recycled steel with a multicolored patina and clear coated for protection, and would cost $18,000 to complete. 

Reactions haven’t been all positive, with local residents showing hesitation at both the location and the sculptures in general. Resident Mary Slaught said Anthropocene would take away from the beauty and wildlife of Baker Park; some, though, have noted the important message of the sculpture while arguing that it is out of place. 

“The ‘Anthropocene’ sculpture is relevant to today’s issues of pollution, climate catastrophe, and mass extinction,” local resident David Nutter wrote. “While large enough to be appreciated and inviting for people to walk through and ponder it from within, the proposed sculpture is not so large as to be off-putting. It will be a friendly shape, colorful, and lit by small photovoltaics. I support this sculpture being placed somewhere, although I do wonder if it will get its due appreciation on the edge of Baker Park, and I think it will benefit from some explanatory information on site.”

Regarding the Tompkins Giant No. 1, most people felt it bears a striking resemblance to the character Groot, of Marvel comics fame. Criticism centered on the sculpture’s large size and its leering appearance. Alderperson Cynthia Brock wrote a comment opposing the sculpture, as a response to a series of comments from Nutter. 

“I share your discomfort for the giant, although I have not been able to adequately articulate why it disturbs me,” Brock wrote. “In any case, it does not feel a welcoming presence that would encourage me to visit it – and may instead deter me from being near it and the area it ‘oversees.’”

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