A fresh collection of bronze statues won't gather on Mesa's Main Street next month, as organizers have decided to halt the nine-year-old winter show to save money. Hopefully, this will be only a temporary suspension of Sculptures in the Streets and support will rebound once the economy recovers.
The Tribune is a veteran resident of downtown Mesa. So we have witnessed firsthand the ups and downs of one of the Valley's original shopping districts. We really appreciated the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that went into Sculpture in the Streets. Launched and financed without tax subsidies, the November-to-April display accomplished its mission of convincing people to get out of their cars and spend a little time walking through downtown. Of course, a five-month outdoor art display couldn't revive downtown by itself, and no one expected that. But Sculptures in the Streets did give this downtown a new sense of identity that fit nicely with the Mesa Arts Center.
However, downtown Mesa merchants apparently can't afford to hang on to this project and also try something new. Tom Verploegen, president of the Downtown Mesa Association, told the Tribune his group wants to focus on events that potentially could draw even bigger crowds such as MACFest, the recently launched monthly arts festival. There's also an effort to start a national art show specifically for sculptors.
After nine years, 36 statues have found permanent homes on streets and inside stores of downtown Mesa, and another one is coming. That's a legacy of Sculptures in the Streets that continues to enrich the area.
Yet, we urge our neighbors not to let this tradition simply fade into history. Budget woes at the city hall and a lack of private sponsors ended some of the other features that added to downtown Mesa's character, such as the expansive show of colorful lights at Christmas time and a variety of outdoor fun such as mini-parades.
The annual cost of Sculptures in the Streets at $75,000 might seem daunting right now. In better economic times, that will be a relatively small investment in downtown's future.