Some public art tells the story of a community. Other pieces provoke thoughts or emotion. What all public art has in common is that it is all owned by, or accessible to, the public. Cape Girardeau is home to more than 100 pieces of public art that portray the region’s history, improve our streetscapes, and increase the presence of different forms of art and art related activities in the community.
The Public Art Committee
A recent movement to increase Cape Girardeau’s public art began in 2011 when a Public Art Committee formed. The committee created a Public Art Policy, the formal way of commissioning public art within city limits. The Public Art Committee works in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan to revitalize Cape Girardeau for the future.
The committee is comprised of members of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce, Old Town Cape, Southeast Missouri State University, and the City of Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department.
“Art and culture must be incorporated in any well-rounded community,” said Julia Thompson, Director of the City of Cape Girardeau’s Parks and Recreation Department. Thompson serves as the Public Art Committee’s liaison to the City, which proposes public property projects to the city for approval. The City Manager and City Council oversee the management and placement of public property public art projects to ensure the artwork fits within the scope and intent of the Public Art Policy.
Some of the most prominent examples of public art in Cape Girardeau are the sculptures included in the Cape Girardeau Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, which began in 2014. Since the sculpture exhibition’s inception, the Public Art Committee has asked for entries from around the country and displays the selected pieces throughout the Broadway Corridor for one year. Selected pieces range from colorful, abstract pieces, to simple, metal figures. Each selected sculpture project must be in accordance with the requirements discussed in the Public Art Policy. Once a piece is selected contracts are filed with each artist, and Parks and Recreation works on the placement, base construction, and installation of the piece.
The Public Art Committee also acts as a way to fund projects as these projects are often expensive. For example, the sculpture that will be installed in the Fountain Street roundabout represents a 50/50 cost share among both the City and Southeast Missouri State University. The City will contribute $32,000 from the casino revenue capital improvements funds.
The ability to share funding has allowed for many public art projects to become reality. Without the help from different organizations representing the Public Art Committee and community members, projects such as the murals painted on the Mississippi River flood wall would not have been possible.
“A small organization such as ours could never dream to be able to raise that much money for a project like that,” said Murielle Gaither, the Director of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri. “But, whenever you get a whole community together that stands behind it and says ‘this is what we want, we want to have this visual representation of our history, this visual timeline of our community,’ then I think it’s possible to make big things happen like that.”
Funding for the Cape Girardeau Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition is shared between the organizations represented on the Public Art Committee and private sponsorship and grants awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). For the 2016 exhibition, the Parks and Recreation Department committed $5,000. That funding was matched in full by NEA grants. Old Town Cape donated $1,000, and the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri funded $1,650 for a total of $12,650. The entire project cost an estimated $10,000.
The Cape Girardeau Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition has inspired private businesses to incorporate public art into their streetscape. Broadway Prescription Shop, on the corner of Broadway and Sprigg Street, donated the corner of their property as a permanent location for a rotating Southeast Missouri State University student sculpture exhibit. The Southeast Missourian also incorporated public art in front of their building after purchasing The Quill sculpture and putting it on permanent display in front of their offices.
The Cape Girardeau Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition isn’t the first time that public art has been displayed throughout the city. The bronze geese flying in front of Southeast HEALTH in Capaha Park, Freedom Corner on West End Boulevard and Broadway, as well as the Children at Play sculpture in front of Capaha Bank on Kingshighway are all examples of sculpture being used as public art in Cape Girardeau.
“Sculpture truly is so important,” Gaither said. “It provides diversity to the streetscape. People are more in the moment, people are engaged more, they’re able to take in their surroundings. So, there’s a lot of really cool things that happen out of the presence of public art.”
In addition to sculptures around town, dozens of murals are found on the sides of downtown buildings and along the riverfront wall. These murals commemorate historical events and cultural features of Missouri.
The bicentennial mural on the east side of the Vasterling Suites apartment building was dedicated in 1993 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Cape Girardeau as a Spanish trading post. The mural on the back of C.P. McGinty Jewelers was painted in 1990 to celebrate the Riverfest events, held downtown between 1978 and 1999. The Heritage of Music mural on the western wall of Shivelbine’s Music Store honors the members of Schuchert’s Silver Cornet Band that played in Cape Girardeau in the early 1900s.
One of the more famous murals, and oldest public-art examples in Cape Girardeau, is the Coca-Cola mural on the side of the Port Cape Girardeau building. Originally painted around 1940, the Coca-Cola mural was rediscovered in 1978 after the building was sand blasted. The Coca-Cola Company helped restore the painting to its original glory.
Along the riverfront, the Welcome to Cape Girardeau mural on the east side of the river wall welcomes barges, tug boats, and river cruises to the area by displaying pieces of local history and culture, showcasing buildings such as the Common Pleas Courthouse and Academic Hall. Also on the flood wall, the Missouri Hall of Fame murals portray prominent figures who were either born in, or resided in, Missouri, and the Mississippi River Tales murals commemorate events that have taken place along the Mississippi River and Southeast Missouri region.
Each piece of public art displayed in Cape Girardeau serves many purposes: to dress the town, display history and increase the cultural and economic development of the area. So, take your family on a public art search and see how many pieces you can find!
For more information on Public Art in Cape Girardeau and where to find it, see the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri’s Public Art Booklet.