ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – The Elmira City Council viewed a presentation by artist Derek Chalfant Thursday at City Hall, as it considers another vote on a sculpture proposed for Mark Twain Riverfront Park. An initial vote on the design failed to pass last week.

“A lot of themes that I deal with have to do with food, clothing and shelter,” Chalfant told council members at a workshop meeting, ahead of a final vote on the sculpture set for Monday.

Chalfant is a professor at Elmira College. He also designed the carvings on the corner of Mark Twain Riverfront Park and the carvings at the roundabout on North Main Street. Chalfant told council members his new design for Riverfront Park was inspired by Mark Twain’s Quarry Farm where the author summered for more than 20 years and wrote his most famous works. The stainless-steel sculpture also features trees up to 15 feet high, with books on its branches.

“I wanted to have something to look up to celebrate literacy,” Chalfant said.

The design was approved by the Elmira Public Art Commission after two previous proposals, for an artistic fountain and a splash pad, did not work out. The City set aside up to $25,000 dollars for the project. The money is coming from funds awarded by the New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

Mayor Mandell wants the Council to vote on the design again after it was voted down last week. The vote was 3 ayes and 2 nays. The project needed a majority of at least 4 votes to pass. Mayor Mandell was absent because he was sick. 1st District councilman Nick Grasso said he was absent because he had a work obligation out of town. 4th District councilman Mark Franchi and 6th District Councilwoman Nanette Moss both voted no. Councilman Franchi was not present at Thursday’s meeting. In a phone call, he told 18 News he would like to speak with the artist before making a decision. Last week, Mr. Franchi told 18 News the sculpture “just doesn’t look like Quarry Farm, it doesn’t look like Elmira.”

“Will people recognize it as Quarry Farm?” Moss asked Chalfant.

“Sure, but at the same time they could recognize it as a place where people dwell into because so many people we know, one of the highest price things that we put money into is a home,” said Chalfant. “It’s one of those things we strive to attain. That’s why I put the books at a higher place because that knowledge allows us to afford a house like that.”

“Do they (the Elmira Public Art Commission) also look at, if this is something the public will appreciate?” asked Moss.
“Community context is something we look at, said Lynne Rusinko, Chair of the Elmira Public Art Commission. “But do we conduct a survey of the community? No. That’s not within our guidelines and bylaws as a commission. So, we ourselves consider the community impact.”

“The constituents in my area are not impressed with the renderings, I’m just being totally honest with you. I voted in favor of it. But I also agree,” said 2nd District Councilman Corey Cooke. “To the average eye, they need to see something tangible enough that will persuade them. Master fabricator, fabricate something they can tangibly see other than the drawing that we see on the page, that would be my suggestion. A model, a fabricated model.”

“What you’re recommending I think is just going to prolong this,” said Elmira City Manager Michael Collins. “We have DRI money that we have to spend by a certain period of time. If we don’t spend it, that money has to go back to the state. I think one thing that we have to keep in mind is that we do have an arts commission. It was presented. That’s why we have a commission to approve this. Art is very subjective, whether we like it or not. If the arts commission is recommending this to us, very similar to planning committee, zoning, we have people with a background in stuff such as art. We approved something in the late spring and that fell through, and now we have this. It’s priority that we appreciate what the art commission approves or disapproves. I think we can vote however we want on Monday night, but I don’t think we should prolong this any further.”

The City Council will vote on the sculpture again on Monday September 25th at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. If approved, Chalfant said the goal is to complete the sculpture before December 31st.

You can watch the full presentation by artist Derek Chalfant below: