ST. JOSEPH — When you plant a seed in fertile soil, you can never be sure what might grow.
That is what has happened at the Krasl Art Center, which broke ground Friday for its latest creative endeavor, “Sculpting Community,” a $1.7 million outdoor renovation project that includes a signature gateway sculpture by renowned artist Richard Hunt.
Julia Gourley, Krasl’s executive director, said it was her “greatest professional honor” to be standing on the same ground where Olga Krasl launched the center almost 40 years ago, and to be overseeing the transformation of the campus into a community gathering place and center for the arts.
The project will include the creation of a wide oval lawn, shaded seating areas, accessible walkways and a fire ring near the entrance. Visitors, while recharging their own batteries, will be able to recharge their electronic devices and use the location’s Wi Fi.
With the arching Hunt sculpture, the Krasl will become “the gateway to the cultural corridor” of the community, said Tami Miller, the center’s assistant director. People will be able to walk under the sculpture, view it from different angles, and even sit on its pedestals, Miller said.
The vision started with the idea for a sculpture and a $75,000 budget, Gourley recalled. Five years of planning later, the project expanded to encompass the entire grounds.
St. Joseph Mayor Mike Garey, an honorary committee member along with Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad, said the Krasl is the “entrance point to our city” for many visitors, and the revamped Krasl campus will show “the cultural vitality our community has.”
Muhammad said the arts can be unifying, as well as transformative.
Hunt, who has studios in Chicago and Benton Harbor, attended the ground-breaking.
“How lucky I am to be providing a sculpture that is a work of art, and a point of entry and engagement for the new campus,” Hunt said after the ceremony.
Miller said that Hunt is the most prolific public artist working in the U.S., with some 125 projects to his credit, including “And You, Seas,” at St. Joseph’s South Pier.
She described his work as “lyrical, poetic and engaging,” and embracing “an attitude of hope.”
Stuart Boekeloo served as the fundraising chairman. He said it was an “easy yes” for him to accept the assignment, and an easy yes for donors to contribute.
Major donors, who have contributed $100,000 or more, include D. Lou Gast; 1st Source Bank and 1st Source Bank Foundation; Frederick S. Upton Foundation; and the institute of Library and Museum Services.
“Art is enduring,” said 1st Source Vice President Scott Geik. “Art lives on, like the Krasl will live on.”
Fundraising is ongoing. About $1.4 million of the $1.7 million budget has been pledged.
Construction will continue through the summer and is expected to be completed by early fall.
Gourley promised a big party to cap the completion at the annual Envision party in October.