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Lawrence City Commission approves design for public art piece at police headquarters

The Lawrence Police Department headquarters will soon feature a new piece of public art.  

The commission’s design concept approval Tuesday follows the approval of the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission, which discussed the design for the art piece at a meeting in July.  

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The pavilion will be made of stainless steel, with a circle of several glass pairs of eyes around its top, and it will sit north of the facility, near the trails where officers and residents sometimes run. Joe O’Connell, the city-selected artist for the project, told commissioners the design is inspired by compassion and understanding of others. 

Years ago, as part of the overall plan for the new headquarters, the Lawrence City Commission budgeted $340,000 for public art. The cost for the sculptural pavilion includes $325,000 allocated for the artist contract and $15,000 set aside for a concrete pad, a low-voltage electrical conduit, and additional site work.

A rendering of artist Joe O’Connell’s concept for art that will be located at the new Lawrence Police Department headquarters

O’Connell said he hoped to get feedback from the Lawrence community about the eye component of the art piece. He’s received some suggestions from members of the community, such as showing empathy in the different pairs or eyes and diversifying the range of race, age, and ability among them. He said he plans to use eyes from members of the community, possibly including the eyes of longtime LPD Sgt. Bronson Star.  

“The main theme is empathy, understanding and seeing through people’s eyes,” he said.  

Although he’s received feedback through virtual and in-person community engagement events, O’Connell said public input has been minimal so far. Some commissioners raised concerns about the lack of public engagement, along with the possibility that the eye-centric design could allude to a problematic level of watchfulness from the police. 

The commission ultimately agreed to the design at a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Lisa Larsen voting against it due to the watchful appearance of the design and limited public input.

Mayor Brad Finkeldei said that although art is “in the eye of the beholder,” he likes that art pieces like this have the ability to spark conversation. Vice Mayor Courtney Shipley noted the art piece could be interpreted in different ways; though it could signal watchfulness, it could also represent responsibility toward one another.  

“I think art is good when you can see it from different ways,” Shipley said. “We need to be critical thinkers, and art provides that opportunity for us.” 

View the full presentation for the pavilion here. O’Connell said he would welcome further input from the public via email at joconnell@creativemachines.com.

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