When artist David Barr, creative mind behind “Transcendence” in Detroit’s Hart Plaza, asked last August for Southfield to get behind his latest “Coasting the Baseline” project, City Council was intrigued.
The public art initiative aims to commemorate the significance of Michigan’s famed Eight Mile Road with 10-foot obelisks, reminiscent of the stakes early surveyors used when mapping the state’s east and west baseline.
But there was the issue of cost, with a minimum $12,000 price tag for materials.
“We could have put city funds into this, but we didn’t want to do that. We are strong gate keepers of our tax dollars, and with the general fund shrinking, we wanted to make sure we weren’t using city funds for something we could otherwise fundraise for,” Councilman Jeremy Moss said. “So with citizens opening up checkbooks and companies donating, we will be on our way to seeing this project come into fruition soon.”
A committee formed by Moss, Council President Kenson Siver, Councilman Donald Fracassi and City Planner Terry Croad went to work raising grassroots support and funds for the project that they envisioned would turn the undeveloped northwest corner of Rutland and Eight Mile Road into a community space with public art and historical significance.
“We want to make sure public art is just that — receiving public support and is a public movement. Something that the community embraces and works toward implementing,” Moss added.
While Barr has committed himself to sculpting his fourth obelisk gratis, with the first in Novi, Northville and Farmington, the committee has a goal to raise $30,000 to go even further and turn the corner into a gateway for the Downtown Development Authority and welcoming space for citizens.
“We want to create a welcoming area around the obelisk with a brick pathway, benches, and landscape trees and shrubbery,” Fracassi said in a statement. “This will be a place to learn how Michigan was first surveyed and honor the first settlers of our city and our state.”
To help kick off the funding, the committee held a recent informational session to showcase the project and highlight the importance of fundraising. Close to 50 business owners, city officials and residents turned out to the free breakfast held at Vassels Banquet Hall May 9.
Siver said they will work to raise 100 percent of the funds needed for the project and that the breakfast was a great start to kicking off the fundraising campaign.
“To date, we have raised $5,050, with a commitment of $5,000 from Action Impact and $1,000 from Hubble, Roth & Clark,” he said via email. “I feel confident that we will raise all the funds needed for the project. Any remaining funds will go toward public art in Southfield.”
The granite obelisk will occupy a 10-by-10-foot space, and Barr hopes to construct them in cities along Eight Mile, from shore to shore.
“I grew up always living within a mile of Eight Mile. I never knew what ‘Baseline’ meant, why it’s sometimes referred to as Baseline (Road), why other times it’s Eight Mile,” he told council Aug. 13.
“My dream has been that this project goes on long after me and continues to march across the state until we have something that is a kind of magnet that pulls tourists and other people along and will make it a mission to go to every one of these obelisks, just as some people go to every lighthouse and every national park.”
Michigan was the first place in the United States to be surveyed using modern surveying methods that started while mapping out the baseline.
Donations are being accepted for the project, for which construction is expected to begin this summer, and can be made online at the Southfield Community Foundation’s website:www.scfmi.org. For more information, contact Siver at (248) 796-5150.
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Coasting the Baseline — An overview of the project
Federal surveys of Michigan land began in 1815, and the original baseline and territory’s “prime meridian” were established at six-mile intervals. The baseline known as Eight Mile Road runs across Michigan from Wayne to Van Buren counties.
The site selected for Southfield’s obelisk, the northwest corner of Eight Mile and Rutland, is city-owned property and currently an empty lot.
The projected $30,000 budged for Southfield’s Baseline project includes $8,000-$10,000 for stone cutting and fabrication, $600-$800 for shipping the stone from Vermont, $3,000-$4,000 for monument engravings, $5,000 for landscaping around the monument and $10,000 for “hardscaping” costs, like pavers, decorative fencing and benches.
More than two dozen community organizations have endorsed the project, according to the fundraising committee, including several neighborhood associations, the Southfield Parks & Garden Club, Southfield Public Schools and Boy Scout Troop 1667.
At press time, the fundraising committee was more than a third of the way to reaching the fundraising goal, with $11,050 secured. Donations may be sent to the Southfield Community Foundation, 25630 Evergreen Road in Southfield. Checks should be made payable to Southfield Community Foundation/Coasting the Baseline Fund, and donations are tax deductible.