Functional Public Art: The UNH Bike Rack Project
Bike racks are scattered throughout campus. Our sustainable community likes to embrace the alternative form of transportation and racks are found near most campus buildings. However, typical bike racks are not necessarily pleasing to the eye. To address this, many places around the country have set up bike rack art sculptures to add an intrigue to the environment. The Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Ken Fuld, was visiting his son’s west coast campus when he was first introduced to a new kind of bike rack—one which not only functions as a rack, but also acts as a public art sculpture. Dean Fuld brought the idea back to campus and proposed a project to the Committee for Campus Aesthetics. Who knew that this committee even existed? The Sustainability Institute is part of this committee and advocates for public arts to “enhance and enliven the UNH campus”. The website indicates the goals of public art to “enrich student learning about the role of art in our cultural environment, stimulate public discourse about art, and foster a sense of community and institutional identity.” The Committee for Campus Aesthetics commissioned the Wildcat Statue in 2006, and most recently established three modern sculptures in the courtyard of the Paul College of Business and Economics, done by UNH Professor Michael McConnell. The bike rack project is unique in that all the designs are by students. Engaging the student body in such a permanent project gives meaning to students' work.
Professor Ben Cariens embraced the idea and has integrated the project into his course in the Art Department: “Sculpture Workshop: Metal Fabrication”. Led by Cariens and his assistant, Adam Pearson, nine students in the class developed small model designs and presented to the University Aesthetics Committee. The Committee chose four pieces, surprising Cariens and the class, who were expecting a more modest response. Cariens was expecting the committee to choose two.
To prepare, the class talked to individuals involved in the campus bike culture to understand the needs of the market. Cariens wanted to make sure the designs would not interfere with the practicality of storing bikes. The class found out that many of the current bike racks don’t even fit typical bike sizes. They have a lone bike rack in the alley behind the metal shop to display “what not to do” with the racks. It’s an average campus bike rack, with most of the spaces too small to fit a standard bike wheel.
The class meets for three hours, twice a week, but most students put four to six hours of their own time into the work. This project is much larger than those of the past and may likely run into next semester to complete. Many of the students have not touched metal before and are facing a steep learning curve. However, they have taken up the challenge and are completing the bike racks in addition to personal projects.
Details of placements are still being worked out, but it’s likely the sculptures won’t be placed until Fall 2014. Possible locations include outside the Paul Creative Arts Center, near the Dairy Bar, by Dean Fuld’s office, around Morse Hall, or around Conant Hall’s courtyard. The location depends on multiple factors including the size of the sculpture, where it would fit best aesthetically, and what kind of traffic crosses the location.
One of the sculptures designed as an intertwined net of metal will hang 11 feet high. This, as well as a high-hanging spider web design, is structured as a few units, which may be placed as a group or individually.
Spider web design in a proposed site of Conant Hall's courtyard.
Another sculpture is a series of connected circles, with smaller circles looping throughout the piece.
The most complicated design is a 15-foot-long handlebar structure. The class usually works only with steel, but this structure is made of aluminum, a metal much more difficult to work with. Professor Cariens says this is only the beginning, and Dean Fuld visions all bike racks on campus to one day be public art sculptures. For now, students are happy working on projects that will remain on campus long after they graduate.
A student works on a piece of a bike rack in the metal studio. Photos by Professor Julee Holcombe and Professor Ben Cariens