In This Corner HighMinded Achievement On Display

May 20, 2002
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“He is a hard act to follow,” said Dr. Bruce Cole, chairman for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Of course he was talking about Meijer Inc. retired Chairman Fred Meijer, who occasionally read from his prepared remarks during the dedication of the Meijer Sculpture Park.

“I have to say that nobody is having more fun than me. Lena and I were farm kids. Lena's been a real partner. The older I get, the more nostalgic I think I get. It isn't what you have — except time. It's what you do with it. There are so many wonderful people who give so much,” Meijer said as he praised volunteers, the sculpture committee and board of directors and his family as more important than his business empire. “That's where beauty comes in. We have to work. Beyond the drudgery is the spice of life. I'm really proud to be a part of this project. What Dr. Cole was saying about ‘the eye wants something, too,’ that was a favorite saying of my grandmother. There has to be more than just living and existing, and that's where the arts come in. And beauty is the spice of life … When I was growing up I was able to experience many cultural things through my parents introducing me to them. It was necessary to my parents, I think, like eating.”

The dedication featured seven world-renowned sculptors who traveled to Grand Rapids to provide tours of their installations amid the 30 acres developed, so far, for the sculpture park.

The artists had their say during a luncheon panel discussion, during which Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt commented that the sculpture park is a “work in progress,” as is every piece of art. New York-based Claes Oldenburg noted that the dedication and attention to the arts and humanities is “very important, more so… as the world is in crisis.” And Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz noted artists have and continue to break through perceptions, “from decorators of society to shamans of society.”

New York-based Mark di Suvero is perhaps the best represented of the sculptors to date, having dotted Grand Rapids’ downtown landscape in the late  ’60s. “This really started more than 25 years ago,” di Suvero said, noting that Grand Rapids was the first city in the nation to change tradition through what became known as “Art Off the Pedestal.”  Di Suvero said, “It was completely different, and this, all these years later, is a result of what happened (then). We will see results again, 25 years from now, results of this beginning.”

The event also drew representatives of the international community, including gallery directors and ranking representatives of New York and Chicago art museums. Grand Rapids Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Steve Wilson strolled the gardens and sculpture park with out-of-state travel writers. And to a person, the work of Joseph Antenucci Becherer, curator of sculpture, was widely praised.

  • Outside the influence of the sculpture park magic of high-minded thinking, achievement and dreaming, politics seem just an annoyance, but remain king. But politics is certainly spread to unelected officials who lead city and county government — and are taking early retirement. On the streets of commerce, enormous concern is especially given to the early retirement of Ted Perez, city parking director, and to Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Services Bob White and Bill Cole. City Manager Kurt Kimball, however, notes “a very qualified field of potential candidates” to fill those slots.

  • More trouble brews on North Monroe Street, from the offices of ProtoCam owner and nonprofit Local Area Watch Executive Director William Q. Tingley III. Tingley’s most recent suit(s) against the city, and several North Monroe property owners, relates to the alleged illegal removal and dumping of hazardous chemicals from the old Berkey & Gay building site, now known as The Boardwalk, and continued investigation by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

A May 13 letter from Tingley sent to GR City Commissioners informs them: “I have received this morning a letter from Assistant City Attorney Daniel Ophoff stating that theCity has destroyed and will continue to destroy minutes of City Commission executive session meetings that were explicitly requested in discovery by us in our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. This is, of course, contemptuous of both the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act and of the Court, which is entitled to review those minutes to determine whether they should be disclosed to us.

“What is particularly troubling about the City’s destruction of these documents is that Mr. Ophoff was required to produce them for the Court's review by the end of February.  He refused but asked our attorney, Peter Steketee, if we would give the City an extension while he worked on an agreement with other city officials to informally show us these minutes.  Assuming that Mr. Ophoff was making this request in good faith, Mr. Steketee agreed.  What in fact happened is that Mr. Ophoff put off Mr. Steketee with various excuses for 11 weeks until the city was able to destroy these critical documents.

“I doubt that Mr. Ophoff took it upon himself to obstruct our discovery of these documents. Our investigation will no doubt identify who instructed Mr. Ophoff to deceive Mr. Steketee. Meanwhile, Mr. Ophoff has promised that the city will continue destroying documents until we obtain an injunction to stop the city. As that will take time, the city commission might, for once in this matter, act in the public interest and safeguard the principle of the Freedom of Information Act by prohibiting any further destruction of executive session minutes until the Court has had the opportunity to examine them.”

’Nuf said.           

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