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Dyster plans $435,000 sculpture for traffic circle

Niagara Falls – It was our own resident genius, James Hufnagel, who wrote us this week, to say, “You know what would be really funny? A picture of Mayor Paul A. Dyster wearing the new traffic circle sculpture like a crown.”

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Mr. Hufnagel was referring to the $435,000 work of “art” that Mayor Dyster is having installed downtown at the small Centennial Circle across from the closed Hotel Niagara. The sculpture is meant as a commemoration of the obscure 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the US, governing how the Niagara River and the Great Lakes are to be shared and treated.

The Artist: While we should celebrate Art this project raises enough questions to make celebration difficult. The cost is extraordinary; the artist selection is insulting; the use of designated Greenway money is abusive; and finally, what is being commemorated hardly deserves commemoration.

Public Art Curator Aaron Ott of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery headed the search for the artist. That was a plan that all but insured that an expensive, out-of-state artist would be selected. If Dyster wanted to collaborate with an art institute he might have worked with the Burchfield Penney Art Center whose mission is “dedicated to artists of Buffalo, Niagara and Western New York.”

Not only did Niagara Falls select an expensive sculpture from someone in Indiana, it’s from a man who owns an ad agency that incorporated public sculpture as an ad agency service. Talk about a slap in the face to area artists.

The Money: Niagara Falls is spending $435,000 on the sculpture. $335,000 is coming from its share of the New York Power Authority Greenway money. Forgetting the bloated cost of the sculpture, the Greenway money was allocated with very specific goals in mind which were put in writing in order of prioritize spending. Let’s see if the Centennial Circle project meets the criteria.

#1. Public access to the waterfront. NO.

#2. Improving and sustaining existing resources – parks, park facilities or natural features of the Niagara River Greenway area. NO.

# 3. Maximization of Impact–projects that bring grants, private philanthropy or corporate partnerships. NO.

#4. Consistent with Master Plan. NO. And lastly,

#5. Capital improvements–projects to promote public awareness of the Greenway and its resources. Not really.

One has to wonder if Mayor Dyster understands the purpose of the Greenway Project. We seriously doubt hiring an ad agency from Indianapolis to create a $435,000 sculpture in front of a closed hotel was what they had in mind.

The Treaty We’re Commemorating: The sculpture is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1909 Boundary Water’s Treaty between the U.S. and Canada which was signed to govern the shared use of the Niagara River. While Mayor Paul Dyster said the Boundary Waters Treaty was one of the first environmental accords in history, the result has been the environmental degradation of the Niagara River and the siphoning of the hydro power generated there away from local residents to users downstate or in other states. This historic treaty is not one to emulate or commemorate.

Many wanted to see the more relevant statue of Nikola Tesla (which the Niagara Falls State Park desired to relocate from its longstanding Goat Island location) installed at the same traffic circle, but Mayor Dyster turned down talks with State Parks to obtain the statue as a gift, which is valued at nearly a half million dollars. State Parks publicly offered to discuss the possibility with local officials after the Niagara Falls City Council, the Niagara County Legislature and the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area board all passed resolutions asking for it, but Dyster refused to act on the proposal.

And so it is Mayor Dyster has earned his crown. Mr. Hufnagel offered choices for captions for a photo of Dyster with crown:

  1. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” wrote Shakespeare in his classic Henry IV, however, it’s the taxpayers of Niagara Falls who should be “uneasy” with the Mayor’s comely $435,000 tiara, don’t you think?
  2. “Tell the truth, does this make my head look pointy?”

Perhaps we are indeed a hateful tabloid for criticizing the expenditure of $435,000 in public money for an irrelevant and overpriced sculpture in an undersized traffic circle – when the city is dead broke and there are any number of more important matters to commemorate than a treaty that basically opened the door to hijacking the local hydropower and changing the water level of Lake Ontario – which is causing significant property loss in Niagara County, while we get none of the advantages of local hydropower.

Except of course a statue….

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