Sculptures created by students at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke that have been on public display in Hope Mills for about a year are disappearing from the landscape because of a breakdown in communication between town officials and UNC-Pembroke instructors.
Adam Walls, associate professor of art at UNCPembroke, is a Hope Mills resident. About a year ago, he worked out a plan with Hope Mills Mayor Jackie Warner for students to create sculptures that would be put on display around the town of Hope Mills.
The plan was for the town to get new works of art to show on an annual basis, with the only cost to the town being money to purchase the supplies the students needed to create the art. But when Walls tried to communicate with the town this year about renewing the agreement, his attempts were unsuccessful.
“They never would return my phone calls or my emails about how we were going to go about funding the new pieces,’’ he said.
Last year, Walls wrote a grant for the town that secured the money to construct the concrete pads on which the sculptures were displayed. This year he said he was prepared to write a similar grant to get money for the materials to build the sculptures. That cost the town about $3,000 last year.
While there was an apparent breakdown in communication, possibly caused by the fact officials with the town’s Parks and Recreation Department were displaced and without phones for a good part of the year as a result of damage to the recreation center, Walls said he heard there may have been another reason for the difficulty.
“My understanding is the board (of commissioners) was not always in favor of what the previous board might have okayed,’’ Walls said. “Because somebody else has previously agreed to it, they were probably going to shoot it down.’’
Walls is in the process of retrieving the sculptures and returning them to their creators. He said this year’s class of students, several of them from Hope Mills, is disappointed at losing a chance for public display of their works.
“My students from Hope Mills are really brokenhearted they don’t get to show anything in their hometown,’’ Walls said. “But there was just no funding available to us. I wanted to help write the grant to make this happen, but they weren’t forthcoming.’’
Walls said public display of a young artist’s work is an important step in his or her career.
“It helps them start thinking of their work as professional,’’ he said. “When you put it in a public realm like that, you are going to have thousands of people seeing your work. They may not all be art enthusiasts, but just imagine. They are going to recognize there is a value in what they’re doing.
“Not having this exhibition opportunity kind of takes some of the value away from the students, especially the students who are from that area.’’
Even if the town does change its mind and would like to have art return, Walls said because of his personal schedule it would be at least a year from now before new sculptures could be created to replace the ones the town is losing. “We hope it will happen in the future,’’ he said.
Warner said she was personally disappointed the town wasn’t able to continue displaying the sculptures. She had first seen the work of UNC-Pembroke students at a similar display in Laurinburg and thought it would work in Hope Mills as well.
“I think it added to (Municipal Park),’’ Warner said. “I can’t tell you how many people have taken pictures with them (the sculptures).’’
Walls also said whenever he went to the park with his children this past year, he heard numerous positive comments from others there about the sculptures.
Warner is hopeful that the town can work with Walls to bring the art back in 2020.
“As a town, we dropped the ball,’’ she said. “Had I known it had gone so far, I would have made the effort myself.’’