A River Runs Through It (Sometimes) 

What to do about The River Sculpture?

The sculpture, by Alison Sky, was commissioned in 1999 and gifted to the city of Boise in 2004.

George Prentice

The sculpture, by Alison Sky, was commissioned in 1999 and gifted to the city of Boise in 2004.

It's cursed, praised, vandalized and repaired. And with an average of 30,000 motorists passing by each day, it may well be one of the most visible pieces of public art in Idaho. But unlike most art, its value has diminished with time.

"The sculpture is aging and its condition is deteriorating," wrote John Cunningham, president of Block 22, which includes Boise's Grove Hotel and CenturyLink Arena, to city of Boise officials. "Our concern is that the current condition of the sculpture is opening us both up to criticism."

The sculpture--built into a granite facade of the Grove Hotel facing a flood of traffic at the corner of Capitol Boulevard and Front Street--is officially known as The River Sculpture, designed and built by Alison Sky, commissioned in 1999 and paid for by the Hotel Ownership Group (The Grove) and Capital City Development Corporation and gifted to the city of Boise in 2004.

The River Sculpture is also known--not so affectionately--as "the crack." When it works as promised (which isn't often), clouds of mist float among iridescent bubbles. But a lengthy analysis, conducted by Boise-based Trout Architects, details a river of problems, including water leaking into the Grove Hotel's stair tower, water damage to the opposite wall of the sculpture, degradation of the blue background panels, mineral deposits from a water-based fog system, a neon light system that needs ongoing repair or replacement, an inappropriate sidewalk drainage system, and vandalism because architects say the sculpture is "an attractive nuisance relative to its ability to be climbed."

The problem has landed in the city of Boise's lap because it was the recipient of the art, but Terri Schorzman, the city's director of the Arts and History Department, says she wants to reach out to the Grove Hotel to help foot the bill for fixing the problem.

"Staff is in contact with the hotel management group to explore possible cost and future maintenance-sharing options," wrote Schorzman to the Boise City Council.

Cunningham wrote to the city in February that the Grove was "very interested in working with the city and the artist to discuss practical, long-term solutions to preserving the beauty of the sculpture."

The choice is simple; the cost not so much.

A process known as "de-accessioning" (removing the sculpture and repairing the wall) would cost about $63,000. To restore the sculpture (including a thorough cleaning, replacement of many of the features, re-engineering the fog system, replacing the blue background with glass mosaic tile and installation of a security camera), the price tag jumps to approximately $140,315.

Trout Architects says it has been working with Sky, the original artist, to propose restoration recommendations.

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