Mike Helbing delved deep into his childhood memories. What he recalled were dramatic mid-summer thunderstorms drenching the countryside of Shelby County.
And he recalled forays along the Big Blue and Little Blue rivers which flow through his hometown.
Then he went to work making an idea to honor the waterways of Shelby County along with creating a thunderstorm made out of steel for an art project commissioned by the City of Shelbyville.
On Wednesday, Helbing’s sculpture, “Blue River –Wind, Rain and Water,” was officially unveiled at its permanent location at one of the gateways into downtown Shelbyville.
“My thoughts are ... thank you. It was an honor and a privilege,” said Helbing, who grew up in Shelbyville and now lives in Tennessee while maintaining an art studio in Chicago.
The nearly 40-foot tall structure sits adjacent to the Porter Center, 501 N. Harrison St., as well as the recently-created Blue River Trail, which runs along the Big Blue River.
Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun spoke at the unveiling on the process that has taken more than a year to complete.
“I am really pleased with the way the end product turned out based on the scale model that was selected,” said DeBaun. “I appreciated the fact that the popular vote of the members of the community that participated selected that model. And we were lucky it was a local artist. I was appreciative of that.”
Once funding for the project was secured, a call out was made for artists to submit models. Seven proposals were then chosen and displayed at City Hall for the public to comment on.
A 15-member committee was formed to make the final selection. Helbing was announced as the artist of choice on March 16.
“The important thing for me is that we took that step as a community,” said DeBaun, who has made it a priority of his administration to make Shelbyville more attractive to future generations through improved trailways and art. “I think it is important to know art has a purpose in the community. It’s obviously stimulating conversation.
“But the other thing I appreciate, it will cause people to interact that may not normally interact with art in other opportunities. And from a community development standpoint, art encourages creative problem solving. So if somebody sees it and it inspires them to do something on their own ... gets the brain working, then it has achieved its purpose.”
The price tag was steep – $150,000 – but funded by the City of Shelbyville using racino funds, the Blue River Community Foundation, Shelby County Tourism and Knauf Insulation.
“This was in addition to all the other great things we’ve been doing,” said DeBaun, who is aware of the criticism that tax dollars were used. “All the road projects that were planned were completed. All of the public safety services that were planned were funded.
“This was using racino dollars, not tax dollars, and I know there is some discussion whether racino money is tax money or not, but the bottom line is, this is in addition to all of the other things we’ve done.”
And there are plans for more art projects around the city. Helbing’s creation is just one step to insure Shelbyville is a thriving community for many years to come.
“It’s more than one piece,” explained DeBaun of the push for more local spotlight on the arts. “It’s also performance art at the Strand, art that takes place in the Arts Alliance and the art guild downtown, and it’s what is going on in the schools when you engage them to produce art for City Hall and public spaces.
“It depends on how you categorize and generalize art, but this is one piece of several different mediums that we’ve started to encourage in the community in the last five years.”
Not only designed by an artist with local ties, the sculpture was assembled using local entities once it arrived from Greensboro, North Carolina, where it was created.
“It’s been a lot of work,” said Helbing, “but it’s been fun.”