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Robert Hess Sculpture
Written by Timm Collins
Statesman Journal

Salem City Council considers buying sculptures

As Salem's city government is poised to shrink by 50 full-time positions, the Salem City Council is considering spending as much as $33,000 for public art.

The council tonight is expected to decide whether to stick with plans to make downtown a more livable and inviting location and use Riverfront Downtown Urban Renewal money for two public sculptures.

The Oregon Artists Series Foundation is requesting the council approve the acquisition of the sculptures for $32,977. The sculptures would be placed in the plaza of the Salem Conference Center.

"Skull" by Robert Hess, is in the sculpture plaza outside the Salem Conference Center. Hess is an accomplished sculpture artist who taught at Willamette University and retired in 2006. The price is slightly more than $17,277.

The second sculpture, "Break Dancer" by Weltzin Blix, won the 1984 Portland Art Commission Percent for the Art Competition. It is a medium-sized piece that is meant to embody solidity and power. The purchase price is $15,700.

Although urban renewal money is accrued through tax increment financing and cannot be used for general fund expenses such as operations, tonight's decision comes at an uncomfortable time.

Just last week city manager Linda Norris told the city's budget committee that Salem must cut close to 50 staff positions in the coming fiscal year - many in the form of layoffs - and make similar cuts in each of the two years after that.

In 2008, the city identified 24 projects to enhance the vibrancy of Salem's downtown. Although the Vision 2020 plan provides a basis for prioritizing projects in the Riverfront-Downtown Urban Renewal Plan it gives no explanation how to spend the tax increment money.

Three years later, the Urban Renewal Plan was amended to create a new project "Acquisition of Public Art."

For the past four years, the artists foundation has held a two-dimensional art exhibition at the Salem Conference Center. The council felt these events not only support the local artist community, but also promote the benefits of art to Salem residents and encourage visitors to downtown.

Spatial Thoughts on Sculpture by Bill West
I don't mean to get in the middle, but Sculpture, especially good sculpture is an asset to society. In this case especially because it's not only well done, but quite interesting as well! Robert Hess has always seemed to have that knack with his sculptures! If, over a period of time, whether it's a month, a year, or longer, divide "Skull" views by 100,000 people, that's less than 18 cents a view fairly inexpensive for both enjoyment and a positive perception of a city who cares and so much more!!

Robert Hess Sculpture
"Skull" by Robert Hess
"Skull" by Robert Hess is in the sculpture plaza outside the Salem Conference Center. Hess is a sculpture artist who taught at Willamette University and retired in 2006. / KOBBI R. BLAIR / Statesman Journal