45-foot ‘Portal’ to be Muskegon’s eighth public art piece

What’s happening: The Muskegon City Public Art Initiative (MCPAI) is planning and developing its eighth project, this one destined to overlook the city of Muskegon’s Shoreline Drive. MCPAI was established in July 2018 to develop and oversee the commission of 10 monumental works of public art. The MCPAI is a project of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County.  

What’s planned: The Portal is being created by Muskegon artist Lee S. Brown. It will be a 45-foot circle of weathering steel, lit on the inner band from dusk to dawn, and installed in the rolling hills between Shoreline Drive and the Shoreline Inn. Installation is planned for September 2024. 

The city of Muskegon also is exploring the possibility of expanding the bike/pedestrian pathway to include a hard-surface trail up to and through the sculpture. In addition, Michigan’s Edge Adventure Bike Association is investigating the feasibility of developing an urban bike park in that area.  

What they are saying: The inspiration for this work, Brown says, is the people of Muskegon, who have always had big dreams and aspirations as shown not only in its history but also in its resurgence in the past 15 years. “It is the energy and grit of Muskegon citizens that is spurring this new and  exciting growth. Without a doubt, the PORTAL will be a  spectacular monument to and for the city that represents community strength, resiliency, and unity,”  Brown says.

What’s special: This sculpture also pays homage to  Muskegon’s industrial heritage. In  1911, a new company – Sealed  Power – was established by Muskegon residents to build piston rings for Continental  Motors, also of Muskegon. The companies served the emerging automobile industry that was taking hold in Michigan and beyond. Soon after its beginnings, the efforts gearing up for World War I played into their early success. Sealed Power became one of Muskegon’s most iconic industrial companies and its only Fortune 500 company, employing over 1,500 workers at its peak and producing millions of piston rings annually. Eventually, Sealed Power changed its name to SPX.  

Although SPX moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, in the late 1990s, its impact and legacy in Muskegon runs deep to this day. The MCPAI is the brainchild of Patrick O’Leary, the chairman of the SPX board of directors in Charlotte, who lived in Muskegon for five years. O’Leary has contributed the first $25,000 for each of the 10 MCPAI-planned public art projects. The Portal will be located on property in front of the former SPX headquarters and near the company’s first plant. 

The Portal also represents the circle, emblematic since ancient times of powerful symbols such as the sun, unity, strength, and unbroken love. MCPAI sees the sculpture becoming a destination for those entering marriage, renewing friendships, or making positive resolutions. 

How they are doing it: This eighth public installation is supported by the city of Muskegon, Greater Muskegon  Economic Development, the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, the Downtown Arts Committee, the MuskegonCity Public Art Initiative, the Muskegon Museum of Art, the Howmet Aerospace Foundation, and individuals and businesses who support the public art projects.  

Fundraising for the Portal began in September. This sculpture will be the largest commissioned to  date by MCPAI and the costliest thus far. The budget for this project is $316,272. To date, MCPAI has raised $233,080 in cash gifts and pledges, or 74% of the goal, with $82,200 remaining.  

Gifts to the Portal Sculpture Fund may be sent to the Community Foundation for Muskegon County,  425 W. Western Ave., Muskegon MI 49440. Gifts of $1,000 or more will be recognized on signs at the site. 

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.