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MICHAEL BURTCH: ARTIST

SCULPTOR, SOUND ARTIST, WRITER, SET DESIGNER

SCULPTURE CONFLICT; 2001

BODIES IN MOTION

 

CITY TO COVER UP RHODES CENTRE NUDES

Follow the conflict as played out in the Sault Star and presented on this page


 Sault Star

Elaine Della-Matta

A trio of sculptures adorning the front wall of the John Rhodes Centre are to be removed - temporarily - so they can be clothed and fastened securely. 

City staff have received some complaints that the sculptures, called Corpus Mobilis, are rude and should not front a city owned facility.

CAO Joe Fratesi said the sculptures need to be removed temporarily anyway from the Elizabeth Street facility because of a potential safety issue.

"We've discovered that the fasteners may not be strong enough and they need to be reinforced so the sculptures don't fall", he said. The sculptures have been mounted for about a week.

The work, cast in fiberglass-reinforced bronze depicting athletes, will also be modified by the artist Michael Burtch.

Burtch, who was paid $15,000 for the trio in the commissioned work competition, was out of town Friday could not be reached for comment.

 His proposal, which had been submitted and approved by the Cultural Advisor and Board and ultimately city council, called the figurative sculpture ensemble a representation of figures that could be interpreted either as diving, swimming, gymnastic or yoga positions.

The proposal also said the figures are posed to suggest movement or readiness for movement, in the ensemble, they relate to each other in a form of circular composition through the extension of the limbs and the positioning of each figure.

While the city owns the statues and can ultimately decide what it wants done with them, the chair of the Cultural Advisor Board says an informed decision should be made before any action is taken.

"Any decision that the city may make should await proper examination of what really is the response because I've heard several comments that are very much to the contrary," said Doug McChesney.

"Even the cavemen had respect for art"

-Arts Council president Bill Slingsby

If public concern about nude art statues results in their removal, McChesney questioned what others in the city - such as the courthouse, cenotaph- which might be affected next. 

"How anybody could see anything suggestive with what's there is beyond me", he said Friday night.

"You can pick up any tabloid, newspaper or magazine on the newsstand and you're going to see a lot worse than that."

 

 

THE CONFLICT WAS REVIEWED IN FEBRUARY 2023 IN THE SAULT STAR.

You can view the sculptures there and see how the environment has affected them.

READ THE ARTICLE IN THE SAULT STAR BY 

Jeffrey Ougler
Published Feb 15, 2023, • Last updated Feb 20, 2023, • 4-minute read.

 

 

  


CONSULT PUBLIC FIRST

     

By Brian Kelly

The Sault Star

Local residents should have been consulted before the City of Sault Ste. Marie decided to remove several nude statues from the John Rhodes Centre, says the vice-president of the Arts Council of Sault Ste. Marie & District.

"I'm shocked that they're being taken down to be altered or changed from their original artistic creation without public consultation," said Wendy Hamilton.

"I'd like to know who complained and why the city is so quick to react."

Joe Fratesi, the city's chief administrative officer, said staff has received some complaints about the sculptures suggesting.

they are not appropriate for a city-owned facility.

He added the fasteners securing the figures may not be strong enough, so the artwork must be taken down and their attachments reinforced.

Created by local artist Michael Burtch, the sculptures celebrate what the human body is capable of achieving in numerous athletic activities, said Hamilton.

"The human form is beautiful and to be celebrated - especially an athlete." she said. "An athlete is the ultimate visual expression of the human body."

"The debate over nudity and art has raged for hundreds of years- Michelangelo's 16th century statue of David is one example - but Hamilton could not recall a similar controversy resulting from the work of a local artist.
It's a human being and that's the way we all look,." she said of Burtch's work. "I'm personally not offended by the human form."

The Arts Council of Sault Ste. Marie & District is a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to the promotion and development of the arts. 

 


CITY FLOODED WITH CALLS

City Hall has been inundated with telephone calls, mostly from residents who want to see the three bronze nude statues reinstalled as they are at the John Rhodes Community Centre. Mayor John Rowswell said he's received between 80 and 100 telephone calls and emails, with only three or four suggesting the Corpus Mobilis figurines by artist Michael Burch should be reinstalled.

"There's now questions that the mayor's office has received a lot of calls," he said Wednesday.

Rowswell said he didn't see the trio of statues after they were installed at the Rhodes Centre, and he hasn't seen them since they were taken down on the orders of city staff.

On Monday, city council will deal with a resolution to reinstall the controversial statues. 

Saultites flood city hall with phone calls. 

The resolution, moved by Ward 3 Coun. Pat Mick and seconded by Ward 1 Councilman. James Caicco, calls for the reinstallation of the sculptures in the present form, subject to correction of any structural deficiency.

There were concerns about the safety of the brackets attaching the artwork to the building wall, but only one of the fasteners needed some reinforcement.

The motion also requests that Burtch be paid the outstanding $5,000 of the $15,000 price of the commissioned work.

Burtch, who is director of the Art Gallery of Algoma, said he will be present at the council meeting and will be available.

"I think it's good to clear the air," Burtch said. "I've been overwhelmed by the response of the citizens of this city."

Burtch said he believes the majority of Sault Ste. Marie residents are tolerant and open-minded and what has happened is no reflection of the city, "but of a small minority."

Mick said she was asked to replace another council agenda-setting meeting Tuesday and decided it was an opportunity to put forth the resolution.

"This is the wrong kind of attention we want to convey. It's been on CBC and in the National Post," she said.

Mick said she's still not sure who is objecting to the artwork and attempts to find names, numbers and addresses of complainants to City Hall have been unsuccessful.

"All I've been told is that it's been people with young families," she said.

Nick Apostle, commissioner of community services, said earlier that public feedback to staff had been about 90-100 in opposition to the statues.

Mick suggests the situation may have gotten out of control after one or two suggestions or moments were made about the statues.

"Sometimes things get blown out of proportion and when you get down to brass tacks, there's not dozens of phone calls, there's only one or two," she says.

Responses she's received since a story was published Saturday in the Sault Star indicating city hall was removing the statues and demanding modifications suggest that most people are pleased with the statues.Mayor John Rowswell says he couldn't be more delighted with the recent surge of energy that's resulted from the controversy surrounding the nude statues at the John Rhodes Community Centre.

The issue comes at a perfect time, when Sault Ste. Marie residents have been disheartened with the continued unknowns of Algoma Steel's financial situation and the fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Rowswell said.

The reaction created by the controversy surrounding Michael Burtch's Corpus Mobilis statues has jump started the Sault and wants to use it as a tool to have the community start working together to understand local problems and work with them.

"It's created a new positive, community energy," he said.

Caico said, "I've had representation from a wide cross-section of the community. I think I've had someone from every neighborhood in Ward 3 and it's been a good representation of the population,"

Mick said, said reinstalling the statues is "the right thing to do. I can't speak for all of council, but I don't believe I was tricked or that I received something that I didn't approve."

Caicco said that the overwhelming support of the community through phone calls and emails makes it clear what council should do Monday.

READ MORE

 


CONTROVERSY GALVANIZES COMMUNITY

 The Sault Star

Jeffery Ougler

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the adage goes, well, so is pubic hair, if that's what the observer is hell bent on seeing, contends Bill Slingsby.

Accusations that one of the fiberglass reinforced bronze sculptures removed Monday from the John Rhodes Centre sports, visible pubic hair are utterly absurd, says the president of the Arts Council of Sault Ste. Marie and District. He examined the work closely, photographing it last Saturday with a 200 millimetre lens, and has yet to detect anything that might resemble such a feature.

What appears as pubic hair to one witness can resemble lines to another, and the artist may not have intended either, Slingsby says.

"If it's your mind, then you're going to see it," he said Tuesday. "There's a fold on the lady's tummy, which is a natural fold. If that's supposed to be an outline of pubic hair, then she needs a barber."

on a more serious note, Slingsby said he joins the city's arts community in its rage...and embarrassment - regarding the brouhaha that the city's decision to remove the three statues and have them clothed has generated both locally and nationally, with front-page exposure in Monday's National Post and a feature spot on CBC Radio's As it Happens.

The reason it made the national news is that it can become very quickly a national issue," Slingsby said. "We're talking about censorship and if we set a precedent here, we're setting our country back 100 years.

"Even the cavemen had respect for art."

-Arts Council president Bill Slingsby

"Only in Sault Ste. Marie would we make it an issue of morality, whereas in other cities at least censorship is a thing of humour."

"Even the cavemen had respect for art."

There's been little humour in the blossoming debate over the city's decision to pull Michael Burtch's creation, Corpus Mobilis, from the municipally owned Elizabeth Street Building.

City staff contend the nude figures' presence has spawned a flurry of angry requests, mostly from individuals who patronize the facility, to have the statues pulled from their lofty perch on the facility's outside wall, their home for just over a week.

 The arts community is crying censorship and ignorance, while the city maintains it didn't get good value for its $15,000, only two-thirds of which Burtch has seen to date.

The artist himself says there's little he can do, save for erasing a few lines that some critics charge represent pubic hair, to render that muscularly defined figures, depicting two females and one male, acceptable to naysayers So, what should Burtch do to deliver a more suitable sample to the city?

Absolutely nothing, Slingsby says.

The statues are a fine work of art, he argues, something that the community should celebrate, not condemn.

The knee-jerk decision to remove them was by no means a testament to the overall mood of the community, but merely a reaction to the vocal beefs of a few, Slingsby says.

Workers remove the controversial statues from the John Rodes Centre Monday

And city hall swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker, he adds.

"It's a squeaky wheel situation and ultimately we do have a tendency to react rather than respond."

The arts council plans to respond - and not just vertically.

It invites everyone, both Burtch supporters and those opposed to the project, to submit their opinions, which the group will compile and then use to prepare a document to present to the city.

 

 


ARTIST STATES SUPPLIED WHAT COUNCIL ORDERED

Council should have offered apology, says president of district arts council.

JEFFERY OUGLER

The Sault Star

 

Michael Burtch has been through the ringer over the past week. 

Caught in the glare of both the local and national media spotlights, the Sault Ste. Marie artist and art gallery director has stomached the indignity of having his integrity questioned.

Some city fathers claimed that the statues Burtch made for their city catapulted into the national spotlight, as the arts community and its supporters' crossed brushes with city officials.

After so much controversy, would Burtch ever consider doing city-commissioned work in the future? "AS long as (the city) could see it first," he told The Sault Star with a laugh, moments after council opted to reinstate his three nude, bronze statues, recently yanked from the front of the John Rhodes Centre.

"I just want to sculpt," Burtch told reporters later. "If I've got something that's appropriate for something and somebody wants to look at it ahead of time, great.

"But to actually do something on spec, I found it personally very draining the last couple of weeks. My first priority as an artist is to make art. Whether or not I enter a (municipal) competition or not at this point, it's a moot point."

The Claim that he delivered something other than what was commissioned is rubbish, Burtch charged.

The three nude, athletic figures, Corpus Mobilis, indeed reflected the original design OK'd by council.

"I wouldn't tone down anything, because nothing was toned up on that one," Burtch reflected." They were tame. They were conservative sculptures. I didn't break any rules on that one."

As for all the public opposition to the sculptures that city staff claimed existed, well, cough up the names and numbers, the arts camp demanded.

"It's 2001. I'm surprised we're debating the issue of nudity," Burtch said. "Public art, yes, but nudity?"

With the dust slowly settling on the issue, Burtch called the brouhaha a learning experience, suggesting that next time around, the city might consider a selection process whereby an expert panel would choose contenders whose work would then be selected by the public.

"I hope that's something the city can build on and help use the arts to revitalize the community."

It appeared to come as a surprise to those who packed council chambers in support of the sculptures that no one from their group was allowed to address the meeting. Council, prior to approving the statues reinstalment, passed a resolution not to debate the matter.

Doug McChesney, chair of the Cultural Advisor Board was told to sit down upon arriving at the podium.

He downplayed the matter afterward.

CITY COUNCIL PASSED a resolution not to debate the statues issue, which kept Doug McChesney, chair of the Cultural Advisory Board, and other local residents from addressing the matter at Monday's meeting.

"It's time to mend fences to a certain degree," McChesney said. "I think council realizes there may be some internal things that need to be looked at in terms of procedure ... which is something I would have liked to address."

McChesney said he hopes and believes the fracas won't deter other artists from offering their work for municipally supported projects.

"Artists are a particular breed of very-well focused (individuals) with a deep sense of inner satisfaction form the work," he said. "I don't think something as silly as this is going to deter people from doing their art."

Bill Slingsby wasn't as forgiving of council for closing the debate.

In fact, the president of the Arts Council of Sault Ste. Marie and District contends council ought to have offered both Burtch and McChesney an apology for what he branded the city's utter misconduct in handling the issue.

"We're not spoiled children that we can just ignore it and say, "Well it's going to go away, he said. "Yes it will go away but the reputation's going to stay for a long time if we don't do something to remedy it."

He suggested striking an arms-length body to oversee such art issues, a body that wouldn't have to "worry about the trailing's of political aftermath."

Is the Sault likely to witness an encore in the battle between the city and its arts community? If it does, don't be surprised to see Kelly St. Louis once again planting herself on the front lines.

"I don't just jump on any bandwagon - I've never done that - but with the arts and Michael, I have a loyalty," said the Sault woman, who spearheaded a 200-name petition in support of the statues.

St. Louis, who has posed nude for Burtch, said the most deeming elements to have emerged from the debate is the community support for the works, not just the arts crowd, but from people who perhaps have never set food inside the city's art gallery.

"The arts intimidate a lot of people, or they just don't understand, so they were thankful to say, "Hey, here's something I'm going to sign. Yes, I'm going to oppose what the city staff is doing."

 


COUNCIL ORDERS SCULPTURE BACK UP

The Sault Star

Elaine Della-Matta

It took less than a minute for city council to order restoration of Corpius Mobilis, Sault Ste. Marie's controversial nude artwork.

With chambers almost packed, council avoided discussion, questions and comment.

Most of the spectators were present in chambers to support reinstalling the statues that were quickly removed from the front wall of the John Rhodes Community centre just over a week ago.

Ward 5 Coun. Debbie Amaroso and Ward 6 Coun. Peter Vaudry tabled a resolution - that the structures be reinstalled as is with structural mounting improvements - without any any community input or debate.

The resolution to omit debate quickly passed, but without the support of Ward 3 Coun. Pat Mick or Ward 4 Counselor Lou Turco.

Council approves nudes.

Council then turned to the main resolution moved by Mick and Ward 1 Councilor James Caicco and unanimously approved the resolution of the nude sculptures in their original form.

Ward 2 Councilor Tony Flynn was absent.

Amaroso told reporters after the meeting that council chose not to debate the issue because it had passed a resolution months ago to approve the submission recommended by the Cultural Advisory Commission.

"There was no direction from council to change that. It's been before council and there is no point, in my view, in revisiting it," she said.

Amaroso said community members had ample opportunity to express their views through the media or through emails and telephone calls.

But she said unanswered questions remain on why or how the statues came down without councils' approval. City staff removed the sculptures, by artist Michael Burtch after complaints were received at the community centre about the nudity.

"It's a separate issue and something that a number of us want to find out by ourselves and I'm still checking with people on the answers I need," she said.

Unanswered questions include how the situation developed, how someone circumvented the democratic process and how council's order was not followed.

"We need to find out where the communications breakdown was," she said.

Mick countered that debate around the issue "was a golden opportunity to inform the public of our policies and procedures and what is in place."

It wouldn't be a" hushing session," she said, but more of an information session about the issues.

But some of the senior councilors wanted the debate put to bed and they won.

Mick said all of council should address the policies and procedures that are in place and how they came into play with the removal of the statues last week.

"Every time I ask about policies and procedures, I'm told that they're there, but I would like to see them specifically and if they're fuzzy, let's clear them up."

Mick said that she doesn't know how the problem can be solved because the majority of council rejected debate and questions.

Caicco agreed. The resolution for debate did not intend a witch hunt and criticism of people who made decisions.

"But, we did the right thing here today and that should be noted," he said.

Mayor John Rowswell, in a later interview, agreed the community has had enough debate about the sculptures.

"We received petitions tonight for and against and we've had well over 100 calls at city hall and I'm sure council has had just as many," he said. "The numbers are still 95 percent in favour of putting them back up."

Roswell said he personally delivered the remaining money owed Burtch and also viewed the sculptures for the first time.

"They're fairly rough in texture if you're looking at them up close... they are not fully finished nudes. It's a grey area between a silhouetted and full nude," Rowswell said.

He added no one on the ground looking at the statues would notice a Speedo and/or bikini on them anyway.

When it was revealed that the sculptures were to be removed for alterations, the community reacted fast and furiously. Most demanded the sculptures' return to the wall of the Rhodes Centre in their original naked form.

A look at the article as it appeared in the Sault Star.

LOCAL ARTIST MICHAEL BURTCH (second from the right) is flanked by his wife Linda and Doug McChesney, chair of the city's Cultural Advisory Board, during Monday nights city council meeting at the Civic Centre.

 

 

 

 

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