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    Monday, July 22, 2024

    Towering New London statue plan shifts from island to Ocean Beach Park

    The Infinite Possibilities Public Art Project group is proposing to erect a nearly 30-foot bronze sculpture on the sands of Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Courtesy of Vincent Scarano of the Infinite Possibilities Public Art Project)
    The Infinite Possibilities Public Art Project group is proposing to erect a nearly 30-foot bronze sculpture at Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Courtesy of Vincent Scarano of the Infinite Possibilities Public Art Project)

    New London ― A proposal that has moved in fits and starts over five years to erect a towering statue overlooking the city’s shoreline is being repitched, this time for placement at Ocean Beach Park.

    Members of the Infinite Possibilities Public Art Project group recently gave the City Council an overview of their modified plan to craft and install a 23-foot bronze sculpture – which could rise to 30 feet after being placed on a mounting platform – near a park pavilion on the far end of the beach.

    Sculptor Renee Rhodes, who created the life-sized statue of the Greek goddess Athena at the intersection of Pearl Street and Eugene O’Neill Drive, as well as the Gaia statue at the Hygenic Art Park, said her newest planned piece, “Infinity,” will feature a neo-classical female figure hoisting a stainless-steel, illuminated infinity loop above its arched back.

    Rhodes described the new piece, with similar blue-green verdigris coloring as the Statue of Liberty, as a “slightly more profound work” than her previous pieces.

    “It is representing strength, movement, striving, freedom and possibility,” she said. “And the purpose of this sculpture is to raise everyone’s consciousness above the mundane without knocking them over the head and being over-intellectualized about it.”

    Robert Young, director of environmental services for the Burns & McDonnell consulting firm, said his team looked at a couple of different locations before focusing in on the beach site, which possesses a paved area not in a wetland area and above the coastal jurisdiction line.

    Young said that although the project does not require state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection permitting ― only consultation ― it will require a site plan review by the city and an accessory-use zoning approval.

    If those approvals are secured, Joanna Douglas, one of the project’s board members, said the group expects to next begin a capital campaign to raise funds for the work, though no cost figure was mentioned.

    “This will not cost the town of New London any money,” Douglas said. “It’s something we want to bring here for free.”

    Douglas and her fellow team members cast the public art project as a “destination artwork” that would draw in more than 1.5 million visitors annually. The group laid out a tentative timeline with statue construction starting in the latter half of next year, with a 2026 installation date.

    New London sculpture: Take three

    The local arts community has been discussing plans for a new Rhodes statue since 2020. Two earlier projects failed to gain traction.

    An ambitious plan to position two 30-foot “gateway” statues on opposite banks of the Thames River in Groton and New London was scuttled after residents raised concerns over possible traffic congestion.

    As recently as last summer, the Infinite Possibilities board embarked on a capital campaign to help raise $2.5 million to place a statue on Shore Rock, off the western end of Ocean Beach Park.

    In August 2023, Robert DeRobbio, then the board chairman, said $400,000 in in-kind services had been pledged, along with $45,000 in donations.

    On Wednesday, DeRobbio said he was no longer a member of the board. He said the Shore Rock proposal fizzled in the wake of “DEEP getting involved” in the proposed placement of the sculpture.

    “That project wasn’t going to come to completion,” he said. “And I only get involved in things I can see through to completion. There were too many walls to getting it done.”

    Douglas on Thursday said the cost of the Ocean Beach statue could be less than the Shore Rock version.

    “It’s easier to install and maintain a statue on the beach than on an island in the water,” she said. “Our plan was always to get a location first before really going out to fund-raise.”

    Douglas said the group is currently investigating exactly what city approvals it needs.

    Mayor Michael Passero said while he supports the Ocean Beach plan, there are still several lingering questions surrounding the project, specifically concerning permitting.

    “We haven’t heard answers on that yet,” he said. “But something like this will add to our tourist draw.”

    Passero said Rhodes, a psychologist with a New London office, has a proven track record of creating public art for the city.

    “This seems the next logical step,” he said.

    j.penney@theday.com

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