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July 11, 2013

Controversy arises from distinctive CSU sculpture

By Alexandra Murray


A Cleveland State graduate feels that officials are not being fair when their already approved agreement to build a community garden crumbled in front of his eyes.

The garden was not allowed to be built after famous Cleveland sculpture artist Billie Lawless supposedly became upset by the unforeseen preparation of the students community garden.

The president of the Student Environmental Movement, Peter Bode, a recent graduate with a degree in environmental science, was the one who created the idea for the community garden along with the aid of other student organizations who planned to oversee the garden in the future.

“The 60 tons of rock and other materials are now stored on campus, and I had to donate 900 seedlings grown in a university greenhouse to urban farms,” Bode said.

Although officials refuse to admit that their fear of legal action was the cause for the halt of the community garden, Bode said otherwise. “When I talked to them they said the artist and his wife were threatening a lawsuit and they didn’t want to deal with it so they deconstructed the work,” Bode said.

Bode also stated that he tried to come to an agreement with Lawless and thought the garden and the art could co-exist. However, nothing came of it. As for Lawless, he could not be reached for statements regarding why he refused to let the students’ community garden be constructed around the sculpture. CSU

The 42-foot-high, 20-ton welded steel sculpture was to be removed this fall when Lawless’ lease for the site was set to expire to make way for the garden, according to director of strategic communications Joe Mosbrook.

“The assistant vice president of facilities Joseph Han and dean of students James Drnek had decided to halt the community garden and let the sculpture remain in its place,” Mosbrook said.

The original permit for the sculpture was issued to Lawless after the artist allegedly threatened former Cleveland mayor Michael R. White with a lawsuit in the 1990s when the city refused to issue him a building permit for his animated masterpiece, titled “The Politician: A Toy.”

The sculpture includes lips that open and close, spinning wheels, a one-ton cedar shovel and a tail made of yellow yarn. “I have seen it, I don’t like it and I’m not trying to block it,” said White in a 1994 interview with The Plain Dealer.

Shortly after receiving the permit Lawless placed the sculpture on private land located on East 66th Street and Chester Avenue in 1996.

But when the land was put up for sale in 2008 the sculpture was dismantled, repaired and moved west to the property of Cleveland State University behind the Monte Ahuja College of Business, known then as the Nance College of Business.The university pays Lawless $120 a year in order to maintain the sculpture.