Arts & Culture Business Development Community Commentary Featured Fara Illich March 11, 2010

Say what you will about the floating sculpture in Downtown Phoenix, but it’s magnificent. I’ve heard it referred to as a jellyfish, a uterus, a travesty, beautiful, bold, stupid, a waste. It was installed on March 18, 2009 and even when it was just a rendering it caused such a hullabaloo between people (like me) defending it and people who wanted to see it never happen. It’s fascinating that before the sculpture was even it up it caused so much dialogue but that is exactly what public art should do: bring people together to discuss ideas. Downtown Phoenix is lacking in quality public space and this piece was designed to be part of a new park that was under construction. The park is now open and is next to a light rail station, the new ASU Downtown campus, and Central Station in the heart of Downtown. (Local blogger Yuri Artibise wrote about the pros and cons of the park in a piece here.)
Overall, I like the park and think it has the potential to become a destination, and the floating sculpture will be a main driver behind that. I predict the sculpture will become iconic, something that people who visit the city will go home and say, “You’ll never believe what I saw in Phoenix.”
Art and people duskThe piece, officially titled Her Secret is Patience, is the work of Janet Echelman, an artist who has done similar projects in major cities around the world. She said that she drew her inspiration from the vast Arizona sky and Saguaro blossoms. Some people call it a jellyfish and I don’t mind that comparison. After all, this part of the world was covered by the ocean millions of years ago. It is possible that actual jellyfish did float around in water above what is now known as Downtown Phoenix which makes the sculpture even more relevant. I’ve never seen anything like it. The sculpture is beautiful, unique and colorful. The way the netting ripples and dances silently in the breeze is hypnotic. I had to catch my breath the first time I saw it and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I wanted to take photographs and look at it from different angles. I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to spend hours at the park admiring the new addition to our city.
Art, by definition, should say something. This sculpture says that Phoenix is a city willing to think outside the box and is ready to grow up and have its own identity. Creating such a unique pedestrian location, not on the fringes of the city, but smack-dab in the middle is an achievement of people thinking smart and big and is a major step forward for a city so dependent on cars.
The City of Phoenix has an interesting past with public art. During the construction of the 51, a lot of money was spent installing public art along the freeway. The art consisted of oversized ceramic pots on the side of a major road. I have one main objection: the art was on the side of a major road! A person cannot truly appreciate art while flying by it at 65+ mph and giving it an accidental glance.
But Her Secret is Patience is in a public park that people can get to by walking or taking the light rail. It’s in a park where the community can gather and relax and sit under trees and read and throw a football.
I hope this will be a catalyst that brings more people with vision to Phoenix because the city needs better vision and new ideas. We need better architecture, pedestrian friendly streets, and reasons to be downtown. Her Secret is Patience is just the beginning.