Sandy Springs City Council will consider what it heard about sculptures for the planned Veterans Park after seeing examples of artwork ranging from $250,000 to $1 million in a presentation from Art Sandy Springs.

Veterans Park is planned in the triangle of land bounded by Johnson Ferry Road, Mount Vernon Highway and Roswell Road directly across from City Springs and its Performing Arts Center. The city spent $5 million to purchase the land for an intersection improvement project, and budgeted $4.6 million for design and construction of the park.

Cheri Morris of Art Sandy Springs explained during the Feb. 1 council work session the process and costs involved in selecting an artist with the help of city staff and volunteers. The city asked for an iconic sculptor’s work, so the presentation showed the council examples that cost $1 million to meet that request, along with a range of works down to $250,000. 

Councilman Tibby DeJulio said he thought the city would pay $50,000 for a sculpture, a step up from the approximately $20,000 it has spent on sculptures through the ArtSS in the Open program.

“Have we lost our minds? A million dollars for a piece of art over there? It just seems like it’s gotten out of hand,” said DeJulio, a Vietnam veteran.

After the presentation, he said Veterans Park was intended to be a memorial to the veterans, not an art park. The original plan was to have a fountain on that side of the road with a memorial to the different military service branches, he said.

“This is Sandy Springs. This is not Washington, D.C. I think somebody has gotten carried away with this,” he said.

DeJulio suggested council reevaluate and discuss whether they want to spend $1 million of taxpayers’ money on public art.

Morris said in her presentation that an Art Sandy Springs committee has a standing commitment with the city to offer input on art and where it is appropriate on city land, and Veterans Park has been a continuation of that.

“We’re not asking you to spend a million dollars. We gave you a budget of $400,000,” she said.

The city came to Art Sandy Springs and said it wanted an iconic name and sculpture in the park, to which it was said to cost about a million dollars.

“I’m here to show you a million. If you want to spend $100,000, we’ll do a $100,000 piece, and it’ll be fabulous. Because we’re good at what we do,” Morris said.

Councilmember Jody Reichel said she thinks the park has space for a prominent water fountain or a large sculpture, but not both.

“When we start talking about the budget, I for one would rather choose either the water feature or the art and just want to see what everybody else thinks about that,” she said.

The selection process Morris described has a planning committee, citizens committee and a selection committee. The mayor’s advisory committee is part of the citizens committee. But Councilmember John Paulson wasn’t sure if veterans were part of it. He asked if any veteran service organizations such as the American Legion or VFW posts were contacted.

Morris said veterans and children of deceased veterans were recruited for Art Sandy Springs committees and the citizens committee. They also could add people he recommends from those military service organizations to the citizens advisory committee, which will be consulted on their vision for the park.

“We’ve got a Veteran’s Park that we’ve got a pretty nice plan for it as the memorial, so the different branches of the service and the flags and the bench and stuff like that. I always thought that was a must have for any Veteran Park,” Paulson said.

The idea of an iconic sculpture as shown in renderings of the park layout was interesting, he said.

The scale of that placeholder sculpture made it an expensive example, Morris said.

“That much stainless steel and that much crafting … that’s an expensive sculpture that you see in his renderings. It startled me, made me nervous,” she said.

“I think it’s important that the council contemplate everything they’ve seen tonight and reach a consensus on how we want to approach it,” Mayor Rusty Paul said.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.