Arts commission launches ‘Free the Bear’ campaign

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published April 6, 2016

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SOUTHFIELD — The Southfield Public Arts Commission is hoping the community will rally to save the art pieces recovered from the former Northland Center.

After the mall closed nearly a year ago, Southfield Mayor Ken Siver said, the city stepped in to seal the fate of the mall’s various art pieces.

Built in 1954, Northland Center, 21500 Northwestern Highway,  was one of the nation’s first suburban malls. Eight months after a judge ruled that Northland Center would close, the city of Southfield announced the purchase of the mall in October 2015.

The city announced Oct. 7  that it had purchased the mall from the court-ordered receiver for $2.4 million and planned to demolish, remediate and sell the property to a qualified developer, according to a news release from Community Relations Director Michael Manion.

“When the court appointed a receiver, the mall was bleeding within the red and bleeding more money every day. The receiver was looking for ways to raise capital to just keep current with some of the bills — the security bills, utilities — so he had looked at selling the 11-piece Northland art collection and contacted an auction house,” Siver said. “The auction house had come out and estimated the value at a minimum of $500,000.”

Siver, who spearheaded the creation of the Public Arts Commission last year, said that when he heard the art would be sold at an auction, he knew he had to act fast. The city secured a low-interest loan of $500,000 for the art pieces.

“This art has a long history in Southfield. It should stay here,” Siver said.

Now that the city has secured the 11-piece collection, the Public Arts Commission has launched the Free the Bear development campaign to raise funds to pay back the loan, get the art out of storage and have it placed around the city. The fundraiser includes both a public crowdfunding component and a corporate underwriting.

Siver said the commission is already halfway to its goal of $600,000, thanks to a donation of $300,000 from the Southfield Public Library Leon Miller Trust Fund. The library will match donations up to $300,000.

The campaign gets its name from “The Boy and Bear” sculpture, by American sculptor Marshall Fredericks, who was one of six artists commissioned by J.L. Hudson  to create a sculpture for the mall when it opened in 1954. Fredericks reportedly created the statue to appeal to children. The statue was carved in limestone, and the boy was cast in bronze and gold-plated.

City Librarian Dave Ewick said the library has been secured as the future home of “The Boy and Bear” sculpture.

“The Southfield library is thrilled to be the new home of Marshall Fredericks’ ‘Boy and Bear.’ We love that it ties so well to the beloved Rudyard Kipling story ‘The Jungle Book,’” Ewick said in an email. “When we agreed to give $300,000 in gift funds from the Leon Miller Trust to support the Northland art purchase, our hopes were always that this wonderful, whimsical piece would grace our library.”

Siver said purchasing the art fits in with his vision of creating a sense of place in Southfield.

“Art creates a sense of place and creates a sense of vibrancy in the community, and also elicits emotions from people,” Siver said. “Art is an economic driver. Even if you’re indifferent to art, it makes good business sense to have art. It’s been a vision of mine for years to rebuild the public art presence in Southfield, and this is a very important part of that.”

Cash donations or checks made payable to the city of Southfield, c/o the Mayor’s Office, can be sent to 26000 Evergreen Road, P.O. Box 2055, Southfield, MI 48037-2055.

Interested donors can also visit www.gofundme.com/freethebear. Write “Free the Bear” on the memo line for checks.

A public unveiling of the statue at the library will be held May 23.

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