The Waunakee Community School District is one of the most celebrated school districts in Wisconsin, consistently ranking in the top tier of Wisconsin schools. In the fall of 2017, the Waunakee Area Public Arts Committee (WAPAC) fundraised for the purpose of commissioning an artist to design, fabricate, and install a sculpture to champion the theme of “celebrating teachers, staff, students, and excellence in education.”
The WAPAC wanted a public sculpture that would enhance a heavily trafficked public location and create an experience for all who gather there. The chosen site was the entrance to the high school because it hosts many community events and is where they could celebrate students of all ages.
Because of this artwork’s theme and its location at the Waunakee High School, collaboration with students was a requirement of the commission. WAPAC wanted to find an artist who could incorporate ideas from students in all areas of study from art, to English, to the innovation lab.
The public arts committee wanted to celebrate excellence in education, but they knew when commissioning art for schools they needed to find just the right artist.
Finding the right artist to collaborate with students on a public artwork can be a challenge. The Waunakee Area Public Art Committee reached out to CODAworx for assistance. CODAworx has an extensive pool of artists from around the world, so WAPAC chose the CODAworx Concierge Service to guide them in the artist selection process.
At the very start of the project, a CODAworx RFP Specialist met the committee on-site at the high school to work with them to define the budget, timeline, and goals of the project. After these key details were decided and approved, the CODAworx RFP Specialist handled all administrative details of the application process from start to finish. The specialist created a Request for Qualifications document (RFQ) and distributed that in a targeted email to appropriate artist professions from the CODAworx database. The CODAworx team handled any applicant questions, and at the end of the application period, the public art committee was presented all applicant qualifications and images of past work in a beautiful layout for review in the CODAworx RFP Toolkit application management tool.
After narrowing the applications and hearing presentations facilitated by CODAworx from three highly qualified candidates, WAPAC selected California artist Michael Kalish. Over the course of the project, he would travel on-site to Waunakee 3 times to collaborate with the public art committee, students, and other community stakeholders on the artwork design. Kalish also collaborated with students remotely multiple times, including taking them on a digital tour of his California studio during the fabrication process. Nick Mischler, Co-chair of the Waunakee Area Public Arts Committee, was impressed with Kalish’s energy and approach to working with the students, “Michael was very down to earth. He included the students in the process a lot, so they could have a part in the design. We are very pleased that an internationally renowned artist, like Michael, took the time to really engage with our community on this artwork.”
The final design was five sculptures of giant book stacks. The title of the artwork “Illuminating a Path: Past. Present. Future.” references excellence in education with each stack of books having custom laser-cut icons that encompass characteristics unique to the community as well as symbolic book titles related to the mission of the school district and values of the town as a whole. The artwork was designed to encourage hands-on interaction and for students to climb and spend time on the artwork. At night, the community is reminded of their past and present and look forward to a bright future as the book titles light the way forward.
Comprised of cement, powder-coated aluminum and LED lighting, the artwork was installed on-time and on-budget in May 2019. There is one more addition to the artwork to come, which will be a large “open book” on a pedestal. Visitors will be able to see on one page the names of the approximately 120 sponsors and donors to this artwork and on the other page the title of the work and the artist’s signature. Images of this artwork can be seen on Kalish’s CODAworx Creative Profile on CODAworx.
“CODAworx guided us through this process. We reached artists from around the world we couldn’t have found, because our Rolodex is pretty lean. They were very engaged and passionate about our project, and if we had questions we knew they were immediately available. We absolutely would work with CODAworx again and hope this will be the first of many projects in our community.”
– Nick Mischler, Co-chair Waunakee Area Public Arts Committee