Fine art museums, at least in big metropolitan cities, are typically located in neighborhoods with a lot of money and tourists. But in Casper, Wyoming, the Nicolaysen Art Museum (The NIC) is situated right across the street from an affordable housing complex, Sunshine Apartments, which features a green space public art installation by artist Matthew Dehaemers: a massive sundial that broadcasts the time of day. It's set specifically for Casper's precise latitude and longitude, but also references Earth's age: 4.6 billion years. Unveiled in 2012, Confluence of Time and Space , which received funding and assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts grant, the complex's developers, The NIC, and the city, is all about bringing art into an area in need of economic sustainability.
Dehaemers' mountainous 30' interactive sculpture, a metal frame with layers of clear recycled glass chunks that light up at night, features two dials: an outer ring functioning as a 24-hour clock, and an inner dial that is a geological marker of select epochs in Earth existence. Chosen from among 86 applicants, Dehaemers received community input towards building Confluence of Time and Space, which references the region's historical and geological periods, including fossils, its rocky terrain, and indigenous word and image carvings.
"Various graphically rendered spots surrounding the installation reveal the totality of our earth's geological history and the existence of life since the beginning of our planet," Dehaemers wrote in an artist's statement at the time. "This sundial sculpture utilizes the wind that is such a trademark of the area. Like the marks left by a variety of prehistoric animals, humans and other life forms throughout history, the wind has also helped carved the rock formations that make up the landscape of Wyoming today and into the future."
Dehaemers' ambitious installation not only creates a more dynamic public space for the affordable housing complex, but also serves as something of a symbolic link between the apartments and The NIC. The idea being to not only inspire those who interact with the public sculpture while visiting The NIC, but encourage those individuals and families living in the Sunshine Apartments to engage in the arts.
"The residents have access not only to public art, but are one block from Wyoming's only contemporary art museum, The Nicolaysen," says Ann Ruble, The NIC's Executive Director. "[The NIC] offers free admission every Sunday to exhibits and classes and sliding scale fees for art classes."
Ruble tells Creators that the affordable housing project is built on the site of a notorious public housing complex, the KC Apartments, which the city of Casper condemned in 2009. These units were well-known as a locus of constant drug dealing, but were also structurally unsafe.
The replacement complexes better resemble modern high-rent buildings, and are also green certified. One building features 18 two-bedroom townhouse style apartments, and another complex, Sunshine II, has 26 one-bedroom apartments. The rent ranges from 35–60% of area median rents in the counties where they are located, and services mostly low-income residents.
This multi-pronged approach to Casper's socioeconomic and cultural fabric may come as a surprise to people outside Wyoming. Ruble admits there are still economic disparities in "The Oil City," but she has lived across the United States and says she has never been exposed to a community that tries to bring as many resources as possible to those in need, including those for the creative arts.
Ruble also has some advice for other cities thinking of following Casper's template, specifically with Sunshine Apartments and the public artwork Confluence of Time and Space: "Don't delineate the need for public art and public spaces by income level. Every city and every citizen needs access to beautiful places and spaces if they are to be a healthy, thriving place."
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