Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane is looking to invest in a flock of rams.
She wants to paint them in creative ways and bolt them to the ground all over the city. It’s not a huge violation of animal rights, but simply an attempt to pretty up the streets with colorful fiberglass statues and raise a little money along the way.
“We’re looking to improve the quality of life here,” she said.
So far, she has three statues, five interested sponsors and hopes of at least 30 more.
Citywide statue projects are fairly common. Just in the Capital Region, one can find fiberglass Uncle Sams in Troy, ballet shoes in Saratoga Springs and catamounts in nearby Bennington, Vt. But it’s actually a relatively new idea.
In 1999, Chicago artists painted scores of cow sculptures, exhibited them for a few months then auctioned them off for charity. The idea caught on, and many cities are now littered with sculptures.
“We started doing a lot of these citywide art projects about 10 years ago,” said Kimberly Ericson, a spokeswoman for Fiber Stock, a Minnesota fiberglass manufacturer that ships statues all over the country.
Ericson couldn’t say whether her company was responsible for any specific area installations, but said Fiber Stock ranks somewhere in the top five fiberglass sculpting companies in the country. They’ve cranked out more than 50 citywide projects in a decade.
She said it’s a pretty stable market — mostly because fiberglass statues make sense for cities on a number of levels. First off, there’s money in it.
“There are a few ways we could do this,” Thane said. “We could have artists paint them then auction them off, or we could get local businesses to sponsor them.”
Thane’s three rams are a sort of test run. They’re meant to evoke school spirit among fans of the city’s high school football team, the Rugged Rams. She plans to have one of them painted, then stand two of them together at a ram statue release party in the near future.
Even before the debut — as yet unscheduled — she said five local businesses have expressed interest. At $700 per blank statue and artists volunteering their time, she said the city could make a large profit.
In a recent auction of cat statues in Catskill, she said roughly $30,000 was raised.
“And they were small statues,” Thane said. “I think we could do that.”
Proceeds would fund community programs, such as pool activities and art classes. Then, once settled, the sculptures could function as a tourism draw. Bennington, for example, hosts events that are based around their catamount sculptures, like the Catamount Prowl.
“We could map the rams,” Thane said, “then people could go out and find them all.”
She also talked of developing a sense of civic pride, equating the local optimism of Saratoga Springs with the ballerina shoes that dot its streets.
There is, however, a darker side to city statues. In roughly one year since area artists painted and erected 30 Uncle Sam statues across Troy, several have been vandalized. Two even lost their heads.
It’s not clear what the vandals didn’t like about Uncle Sam but, according to Ericson, vandalism of sculptures can be a real hazard.
“They’re pretty robust,” she said, “but if you have a saw, you can cut right in. They’re hollow.”
Thane’s quality-of-life artworks already have a history with vandals. A mural painted near Forest Avenue in the city after a pair of local teens were murdered was recently defaced. Before that, a mural painted across a wall between Northampton Road and McNulty Academy was spray-painted regularly enough that Thane had it changed to simple geometric shapes, which have yet to be tampered with.
“Then there’s the tiger mural on Division Street,” she said. “People must not like that one.”
Following a number of graffiti attacks, that mural too will be changed. Overall though, Thane said people like the artwork in her city. Other murals, she said, have not been defaced.
Even so, she’s looking into a special clear synthetic coating that would allow spray paint to be wiped off statues with a rag rather that a wire brush and many hours of work.
The coating would not, however, deter hacksaws.