Community members say they'll miss annual public art displays in St. Joe

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ST. JOSEPH, Mich. Folks from across the region are expressing their disappointment on social media after learning that the public art program in St. Joseph, Michigan, has been put on hiatus this year.

“My husband is good at executing, building, and doing the fiberglass work for the pieces and things like that, helping me paint the pieces,” said Heidi Siewert Schmaltz, a former participant in the public art program.

“It was certainly a work of love and enjoyment, because that was the biggest part,” she added. “We did something and put it out there for people to enjoy.”

That's why Schmaltz was disappointed to hear the public art program in St. Joe was put on hold this year and might not return.

In August, the city's communication director, who spearheaded the project every year, was set to retire, and she and the city decided it was time to take a break from the program and try new ideas for the town.

“When we originally came up with the project back in 2003, the downtown was in fairly rough shape,” said John Hodgson, the city manager. “About a quarter of the store fronts were empty, and the city felt that it was really necessary to do something to try to bring more people in. The last two years, we've really been fairly busy, and there's been a question as to whether its original justification, to help the economy, was still holding up.”

“We were disappointed, we understood because when you have people move on, things happen like that, and you also have a major city that's making decisions, and we get that,” Schmaltz said. “We were happy to participate, my husband and I, and we would certainly give it a whirl again if they would take us. It was something we enjoyed.”

The city manager said there are still more than 60 events in downtown St. Joe year-round, as well as public art and other sculptures set up around the town.

New sculptures are being put up now at the Krasl Arts Center, and on Monday, the city commission approved a request to install a mural on the stairs that lead from Silver Beach to downtown. That will be installed later this year.