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Arts and Entertainment


Marrying art and football in downtown Canton
The Hall of Fame City embarks on a $2 million public arts project with "The Eleven"
by WKSU's M.L. SCHULTZE


Web Editor
M.L. Schultze
 
The Eleven will be a $2 million blending of art and football in downtown Canton.
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Canton is getting ready to embark on a roughly $2 million project that blends its nascent arts district with its nearly 100-year-old ties to the NFL. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more on the hoped-for blending of art and sport, and the biggest public art project in Stark County’s history.

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It’s going to be some artist’s job to take something that is usually represented with gritty film narrated by gravelly voiced men like this:

“The Jets, beating the Baltimore Colts, 16-7 gives the AFL its first Super Bowl championship…”

And make people think about something like this:

 “You know, it kind of puts me in the mind of my grandmother and the mothers board and their church hats on Sunday mornings.”

“Actually it looks like it could be a type of ornament on top of a building with a weather vane.”

“I have no idea what I’m looking at, tell you the truth, but I enjoy looking at it.”

Abstract and visual moments
As with other, more temporary works in Canton’s downtown arts district, “The Eleven” will require people to invest a bit of themselves in figuring it out. After all, some of the 11 biggest moments in the NFL are abstract. Take the 1936 draft, the formation of the American Football League, and the reintegration  of pro football in 1946.

Of course, some of the moments are visual. Take this description from one of the players in the 1967 Ice Bowl

“The first play of the game, the referee tried to blow the  whistle, which was a metal whistle out of his mouth. It stuck to his lip, and he had to rip it out of his mouth and his lip bled and the blood froze. There was never another whistle in the Ice Bowl. We played the entire Ice Bowl listening to the commands of the referee. … That’s cold. “

But even then, the artist who wins a commission for one that piece of “The Eleven” project may opt for the abstract.
Robb Hankins is the director of Arts in Stark, the 42-year-old organization that is spearheading “The Eleven.”

Here’s his quick read on the project: “Eleven distinct pieces of art, (and it’ll) probably take us a decade to get them all up, by 11 different American artists.”

He says the art will likely vary in style and substance.

The goal: 'So amazing, even if you don't like football'
“We set three criteria. (First), they capture the moment, and we now have 11 greatest moments identified by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Second, …  they are the highest possible quality art being made in America. And the third criteria, which is a bit whimsical I think, but very important to us, is that  the piece is so amazing that even if you don’t like football, you’re going to come and see it.”

The project began with a call out to artists nationally to do the first of the 11 pieces, called “The Birth of the NFL” Eighty artists from 30 states responded, and four finalists made site visits to Canton and will be back in March with their designs.

A committee of 10 chaired by Sue Timken will select the artist who will create the sculpture.

Hankins says there are no plans to order the projects either by chronology or significance. But he says it makes sense to start the project with the formation of the NFL in 1920 at the long-gone Oddfellows Hall above the Hup automobile dealership in downtown Canton.

The birth comes first
That building was replaced with what’s now the former federal building, and the only sign that the site had any link to pro football is a bronze plaque on the wall.

Hankins says the setting makes sense for a sculpture. But what kind of sculpture will rest very much with which of the artists is picked. The four finalists are the team of Omri Amrany and Lous Cella; Michael Clapper, Gail Folwell and David Griggs.

And all are sculptors.  All have major public arts projects around the U.S. But there, the likenesses end.

Hankins says the discussion about the first piece asked the artists to stretch.

“Does that have to be a giant football player? Does it have to be a football player at all? It could be a giant egg.”

Whatever it is, Hankins says, it has to “set the bar” for the rest of the project. He says the challenge is, “How do we get something provocative enough that everyone wants to come see it, but not so far out that people looking at it have no idea what it is?”

A walk and perhaps partnersThe works will all be within walking distance of each other in downtown Canton. Arts in Stark is raising the roughly $200,000 for the “Birth of the NFL,” locally. For the rest, it hopes to find some national partners – perhaps even other cities for whom some of the moments have special meaning.

Perhaps it could look a little bit north. Among the 11 greatest moments is the start of Monday Night Football. And the very first Monday Night Football game was  on Sept. 21, 1970, the Cleveland Browns vs. the New York Jets in old Municipal Stadium. 


Here are the eleven greatest moments in pro football as defined by The Pro Football Hall of Fame:   

  • 1958 Championship Game (Colts/NY Giants)
  • Formation American Football League (1959)
  • Pete Rozelle Named Commissioner (1960)
  • Formation of the NFL (1920)
  • Red Grange Turns Pro (1925)
  • The NFL Draft (1936)
  • Reintegration of Pro Football (1946)
  • Monday Night Football (1970)
  • Super Bowl III (1968)
  • The Ice Bowl (1967)
  • AFL/NFL Merger (1966) 
(Click image for larger view.)

Listener Comments:

Massillon will be left sucking hind tiity again with the football-art, "the forgotten team", and how amazing is a hollowed out footbal skeleton witha NFL logo inside it? That does not represent who was there, and the character of the moment. once again, Ralph Hay, Higgens, Halas, Thorpe, Storck, Joe Carr, Etc. are overlooked for kitsch.They're not even warm.


Posted by: Jim Parker (Canton, Ohio) on May 24, 2013 12:05PM
This is a perfect combination of the essence of Stark County! Football.....we are truly the cradle of high school and professional football - and the arts - the spark of life in our community. What a wonderful way to blend the best of the sport and the arts - the physical, emotional, and cognitive. As it progresses, and as this project concludes I truly hope it engages not only our own community, but the whole nation. Wonderful!!!!!


Posted by: Sue Kelewae (Massillon, Ohio) on February 10, 2013 7:02AM
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