Monday | 13 August, 2012 | 1:33 pm

Light, wind and steel

By Lynn Stanley

Artist captures volunteer spirit of 500 Festival with sculpture

August 2012 - When the Indianapolis 500 Festival selected Donald Lipski from Philadelphia to create a permanent public sculpture celebrating its 50th anniversary, he thought he’d be making something out of tires or automotive parts. 

“The folks at the festival wanted something much more difficult,” he says. “They asked me to capture the spirit and vitality of the festival without being specific.” When Lipski saw a video of the festival’s OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, the largest half-marathon in the United States, his attention was captured by the image of thousands of bodies bobbing up and down in brightly colored shirts. “The image stuck in my head, and I saw a way to translate that kinetic energy through the medium of stainless steel.”

Founded in 1957, the 500 Festival, a not-for-profit organization, orchestrates nearly 50 different events every year during May to mark what has become an iconic event: the running of the Indianapolis 500—one of the most significant motorsport events in the world. The race is held annually over Memorial Day weekend and observed its 100th anniversary in 2011. “No other singular racing event has the impact of the Indy 500,” says Megan Bulla, communications manager for the 500 Festival. “I think it’s because of the traditions that have been established from the beginning and are still the same today like our parade. People know they can count on it.” The televised IPL 500 Festival Parade is the third largest in the country and features all 33 drivers that are participating in that year’s race. The 500 Festival’s activities draw nearly 7,000 volunteers each year.

“When the Foundation celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008, we wanted to give something permanent to the community to recognize the spirit of the volunteer,” Bulla says. “Funds were raised for the sculpture through donations from the community and local corporate sponsors. Donald Lipski, an internationally known artist, was selected by a committee we put together from local artists and museums.”

Lipski says he got interested in making art for public places because it was a way to share something with people who aren’t looking at art within the confines of a museum. “Art placed in public places can be so innocuous it disappears,” says Lipski.  “But there is the possibility and the challenge to make something people encounter in their everyday life that becomes a touchstone or landmark.”

“The Tent," the wind-activated sculpture, stands at the gateway to White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis. The park is home to local businesses, museums and cultural, entertainment and recreational events and is central to activities planned by the 500 Festival each May. The sculpture is made of two 43-foot-tall, 14-foot-wide torqued planes that climb the sky to capture and create a lofty interior space. Because the two sides are torqued identically, they mirror each other creating the illusion of a curved piece. Each side holds 500 suspended stainless steel tiles (1 foot by 1 foot) that are mirror polished on the inside and have one of 23 different colors on the outside.

At the touch of a breeze, the suspended tiles come to life swinging freely to create endless, undulating patterns of color and light. During the day “The Tent’s” ceaseless movement casts specular spots of light throughout the plaza, much like a strand of crystal drops strung across a window fill a room with refracted rays of light, moving kaleidoscope of patterns. At night,
interior-racking lights pointed upward illuminate the interior of the sculpture playing off the mirror polish and painted sides depending on the movement of the wind.

Maintenance free
“I chose stainless steel because it’s very beautiful and maintenance free,” says Lipski. The artist worked with civil and structural engineering firm Martin/Martin, Denver, and his long-time project manager John Grant to help realize his vision with steel. “We worked from a hand drawing,” says Grant, president of J Grant Projects, Denver. “We determined the minimum structural requirements to keep the outside dimensions as thin as possible to help achieve visual pressure and support the illusion of an actual curve. The two panels were fabricated from 304 stainless steel 2 inches to 4 inches thick tubular pipe and weigh 2,800 pounds each.” 

According to Grant the structural steel was milled and processed in America. Epoxy automotive paints were applied to the stainless steel tiles with an epoxy primer. “We chose automotive paint for longevity, ultra-violet protection and easy maintenance,” says Grant. “Donald specified each color and where on the piece each color went. The trick to creating permanent sculptures for public places that are kinetic is that it’s sometimes challenging to render the physical structure while maintaining the artist’s vision. In this case, I think we were successful.”

The project took three months to complete and was installed in November 2008 in a baptism of wind, rain and snow. “The sculpture truly captures and represents the diversity of our volunteers,” says Bulla. “We constantly receive comments from people about how beautiful it is and many visitors remark on the fact that it looks different during each season of the year. "The Tent" has become the focal point of the park.” MM 

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