Sopris Sun Correspondent
With about a month to go before the installation of the James Surls sculpture at Carbondale’s new roundabout, organizers who also had hoped to create a larger display space for Surls’ work in Carbondale confirmed this month that the idea has been shelved.
“It’s not going to happen,” said local philanthropist Jim Calaway on Monday, regarding the Surls Center for the Visual Arts.
Calaway, a retired petroleum tycoon who is a personal friend with Surls, not only went to bat on behalf of the Surls Center, but also has contributed $100,000 toward the sculpture’s price tag. Calaway’s wife, Connie, and Sue Edelstein, raised the $130,000 needed to complete the $230,000 deal.
Surls, an internationally renowned artist whose work can be found in a vast number of museums and other venues, agreed that the Surls Center plans are not being pursued.
“But that does not mean the idea would be totally dead,” Surls added. “I’m not leaving here,” and he said he would be open to giving a Surls Center of some sort another try at a later date.
A Surls art center was the focal point of some controversy in 2013, when the town asked for proposals to make use of the vacant, town-owned Gordon Cooper Library building at the corner of Fourth and Garfield.
The Surls Center for the Visual Arts was one of several proposals, including a center for the performing arts and a Family Gathering Center with an early child care component.
The Surls center got the nod from the Carbondale Board of Trustees in May 2013, but in January 2014 the committee behind the Surls Center effort announced it was abandoning the library as a venue.
Calaway said on Monday that “we worked real hard” on the idea of using the library, but added that both the architect of the project, John Baker, and Surls himself “came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t work there.”
The building is now called the Launchpad and houses a combination of gallery space for the Carbondale Council on the Arts and Humanities, and facilities for Dance Initiative, the dance organization that had bid for use of the building in the first round of proposals.
After walking away from the library proposal, Calaway said on Monday, a committee looked at other potential sites, including a large parcel of land just to the north of Town Hall, owned by former Trustee John Foulkrod and some partners.
“But we couldn’t work anything out,” Calaway said.
The committee then turned its attention to raising money for the sculpture installation at the roundabout.
At the same time, Surls found himself receiving commissions from international clients in various places around the world.
“I am really loaded down over the next couple of years,” Surls said in a telephone interview on Monday. He worried that the work involved in spearheading the Surls Center effort could become overwhelming, and noted, “I’ve got enough to do on my own, in my own world.”
As late as March of this year, web postings showed hope that the Surls Center would still become a reality, but Surls and the committee decided otherwise.
“He decided, and I agreed with him, that the museum was not going to work,” Calaway said.
Calaway said the money for the sculpture installation is in hand, and that the funds will be partially used to make a marble base pulled from the historic Yule Marble Quarry in the nearby village of Marble.
Plus, he said, a “lighting expert” has designed a lighting system to illuminate the sculpture, which also will be paid for using the money raised by the committee, and there are plans to install a bench and donor plaque in the area surrounding the roundabout.
“It will be a place for people to sit and admire the beauty of this place, and the sculpture,” Calaway said proudly.
Any money left over, Calaway said, will be donated to the town to help pay the costs of landscaping the roundabout.