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A bear for all seasons: The RCAC makes plans for a public sculpture that won't disappear and hibernate on you

Bear cub hanging out to dry in lower Rossland.

As local bears hunker down for their long winter naps, the Rossland Council for Arts and Culture (RCAC) plans to immortalize the iconic beasts with a downtown bear sculpture that will represent "the integration of nature and community."

Renate Fleming, president of the RCAC, presented the idea to council on Oct. 24 with a request for council's support in principle, donations in kind, and the dedication of an "appropriate" space for the bear in the renovation plans for Columbia Ave.

"We feel the bear theme is very close to a lot of Rosslanders," she explained. "We want [the sculpture] to be very close to the community. We don't want to put it on a pedestal or anything, we want it to be more natural."

This would be the RCAC's second public art installation, the first being “The Storytellers,” a collection of five steel ravens in front of the library welded by Salmo artist Andrew Raney in 2008.

The RCAC would like to put out a call for submissions soon and it will benefit artists to know where their proposed sculpture would go.

"The earlier the better, to give artists a possibility to think about it," Fleming said. "We want to apply for more funding in March."

Coun. Jill Spearn pointed out that ISL's lead architect has recommended the "bulb outs" in the Columbia Ave. renovation not only for traffic calming, pedestrian-friendly crossings, and public gathering spaces, but also as an ideal location to show off public art—like the RCAC's bear sculpture or the bronze statue of Olaus Jeldness that is in the works thanks to the volunteer efforts of the Spirit of Red.

Coun. Kathy Wallace also liked the idea, but was concerned with the RCAC's vision of a "sculpture to be placed on flat ground as if the bear was naturally walking in downtown Rossland."

Wallace said, "It occurs to me that we don't want a really realistic bear downtown, it may frighten people!"

Spearn also wanted to know if the RCAC had gauged public opinion on the bear theme and whether other animals had been considered.

Fleming replied, "We want to live with [bears] in harmony as much as we can and we thought that it should bring some attention to that, to our relationship with the environment. The bears are the most significant [animal]."

Coun. Laurie Charlton joked that the bear should be placed near the solar compacting trash barrels that Bear Aware tested downtown over the summer.

In fact, Fleming responded, the "garbage bear" was behind the original idea to help create "bear awareness."

"We all experience this in Rossland every year," she said. "Originally there was a garbage bear theme to bring attention to the way people deal with their garbage. We cause harm to the bears because of our carelessness."

The final product, including whether the sculpture will be in stone, metal, or some other material, will rely on artistic imagination. The RCAC will establish a jury of "community representatives" to choose between sculptors based on sketches of their proposals.

"Once we have an artist chosen, then we will know what price tag to put on it and hopefully get the grant money," Fleming said. "We'll leave it to the creativity of the artist and see that it fits with our budget."

Although the RCAC expressed a preference for local artists from the Columbia Basin—"the closer, the better"—Fleming said that the competition will be "opened up a bit more," to give Rossland a wider choice from among high quality submissions.

The RCAC requested that council provide a "mutually agreeable space for the sculpture" and assistance with site preparation and installation—namely a concrete foundation on which to bolt the bear.

Council support for the plan will be decided at the next regular council meeting on Nov. 14.