Monday, March 18, 2013

Rockford: A Symbol of Failure

"In the late seventies, city leaders sought a symbolic icon to bridge the economic and cultural division between east and west Rockford. State funding provided financial grants to ensure Rockford's downtown remained the city's center for arts and creative endeavors. The city hired Alexander Liberman to design and build a sculpture that would sustain Rockford's downtown. The sculpture was placed at the corner of State St. and Wyman St. in 1978. Six years later, Symbol was disassembled and moved to Sinnissippi Park. Since 1984, Symbol has been placed along the river, north of downtown Rockford." from

I vaguely remember this and how up in arms everyone was. I don't recall ever hearing anyone say this was a great idea and they felt more civic pride because of it. If anything, the consensus was this enormous monstrosity WAS symbolic, but of the death of Downtown Rockford. I now live a few blocks from where this sculpture used to sit, and a short walk from where it now sits. We never saw it, because like everyone else, we never went Downtown. The only time I ever remember being there as a kid was when we went to my cousin's graduation at The Coronado.

But I'm not here to disrespect the aesthetics of the sculpture, the seemingly oblivious placing of it in the middle of what used to be a busy city street in the heart of the former shopping district, or the expense. 

What really bothers me about Symbol is the same decision making process that still bothers most working artists in Rockford today: they hired someone from out of town to do it. And paid them a lot of money. Then claimed it symbolized partly the thriving art community in Rockford. What an insult.

It happened again just recently when the Nicholas Conservatory hired a muralist from Colorado to paint a mural. That project cost over $50,000 and used public funds, but no Rockford artist was considered to paint it. I find that ridiculous. I personally know a dozen artists who could have done that job just as well, or better. But none of them were contacted. However, when the RACVB or the Chamber of Commerce or City want to promote Rockford they sure do talk up how Downtown is experiencing a Renaissance due in no small part to artists, musicians, and small business owner.

What a slap in the face. 


  1. What this kind of thing shows you is how Rockford, IL is really lacking in "community." Community would mean communication between individuals who have the capability to really revive the arts, sciences, and technologies in Rockford, IL to help the economy thrive again. However, the Rockford, IL government tends to jack around way too much, taking things away from community spirit and choosing to do things without referring to community activists too much.

    That's something that bothered me when coming back to Rockford, IL from Chicago, IL: Community was dead. Community was more alive in the early 1990s, but things consistently died down in Rockford, IL.

    I don't even go in the downtown Rockford, IL area. I know it has shops and businesses, but I don't see the point in them.

  2. I like that Rockford Logic. Liberman's an Interloper - hence why Rockford generally detests Symbol.

    I'd like to point out that Liberman was an internationally-known art icon back when Symbol was commissioned. Yeah Symbol cost a lot of money to produce, but it was produced here. Even in Rockford Logic, that should make up for the fact that Liberman's an Outsider.

    Besides, I'm pretty sure the biggest fault with Symbol was the original placement - and perhaps the timing, due to the climate. But it's an important enough of a sculpture to have torn apart and put back together more than once. That stands for something.