NORTH MANKATO — The water will start flowing any day now around a one-of-a-kind sculpture at the corner of Commerce and Lor Ray drives.
The fountain with a work of metal art created by two area teachers is the last of four sculptures to appear this summer along Commerce Drive in upper North Mankato.
And it is one of the final improvements in the reconstruction of Commerce Drive between Lor Ray and Lookout drives, the planning for which started in 2017.
Commerce Drive is one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city, said City Administrator John Harrenstein. The city decided to go beyond needed pavement and utility line repairs to make the corridor more inviting for motorists and pedestrians alike.
The city also consolidated business access points, improved sidewalks, replaced and added lighting, installed a monument sign and made other improvements. Federal and state grants paid for roughly two-thirds of the $3.5 million project.
North Mankato City Engineer Nate Host said the project is nearly complete. A few benches, water fountains and some landscaping are all that remains — as well as turning on the water fountain.
Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School teachers Aidan Demarias and Tim James teamed up again to create the fountain’s centerpiece.
The abstract piece titled “Aspire” represents the pursuit of dreams and the “unique pathway” each person takes to finding their success, James said.
The welded designs that decorate the 11-foot-tall steel structure are mostly abstract. But viewers who examine the designs closely can spot one reference to current events.
Demarias said the tall, twisting piece of art appears to defy gravity.
“We want people to question how in the world it is staying up there,” he said.
The artists worked with North Mankato’s own D&K Powder Coating to add a translucent water-resistant finish when city leaders suggested incorporating the work into a water fountain.
A committee of local artists, business leaders and other community members chose the teachers’ work and three others to enrich the Commerce Drive corridor.
The Twin Rivers Council for the Arts helped the city reach out to prospective artists to invite them to submit proposals.
The selection committee looked for four pieces that were cohesive and would “build connectivity and a visual identity” for the corridor, said former Twin Rivers director and committee member Noelle Lawton.
“Aspire” garnered the committee’s selection for the gateway intersection, Lawton said, because it’s large and eye-catching and has a “classic corporate art feel” that committee members thought would be a fitting tribute to the businesses along the corridor.
The sculpture in front of the Kwik Trip is not just for aesthetic appeal. The metal creation that looks like a bike lock was designed by Las Vegas-based artist Mike Burke to be both admired and used as a bike rack. Look close at the lock’s combination for a set of numbers that is familiar to North Mankato residents and workers.
The sculpture near one corner of Commerce and Roe Crest drives was created by local father and son metal sculptors James and Ryan Pedersen. The work represents the typography of the North Mankato area.
The sculpture on the other corner of Commerce and Roe Crest drives might look familiar to fans of the CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour. “Grow” by Iowa landscape architect Tim Adams was on the tour and now has a permanent home in upper North. The steel and plexiglass work depicts a tree with bright fall colors. When the sun is at the right angle, the colors are projected onto the ground below.
Harrenstein said the sculptures are the latest example of the city’s commitment to investing in public art for highly visited areas.
Lawton said she appreciates that commitment.
“North Mankato has been fantastic embracing what art can bring and do for a community,” she said.