Scottsdale Public Art project Swale, by Stacy Levy, is a part of a City of Scottsdale designed series of roadway improvements for Thomas Road between 73rd Street and the Indian Bend Wash Bridge. Swale consists of 176 powder-coated steel “blades” and “seed pods” that are attached to the guard railing on both sides of the bridge on Thomas Road. These 10’ to 14’ high stylized steel grasses evoke the vegetation that grows in the Indian Bend Wash. Swale gives an experience to all modes of transportation—vehicular, bike, and pedestrian in addition to providing a landmark for the neighborhood.
Thomas Road has been one of the major East/West connection streets between Scottsdale and Phoenix dating back to the 1950s when it was still a gravel road. Throughout the decades it saw many changes, but ultimately has remained a vital thoroughfare for the local businesses and residents. Scottsdale looked to the Thomas Road Improvement project to refresh the aging infrastructure as well as elevate the aesthetics of the corridor and enhance the experience for both pedestrians and bicyclists. The public art has helped to redefine the Thomas Road Bridge by fostering community connections and dynamics and establishing a quality pedestrian area where people could experience a sense of pride and ease. The overall project included functional improvements such as roadway frontage improvements and added bike lanes, which resulted in the public art segment being the central element binding all of these changes together to “elevate the aesthetics.”
Artist Stacy Levy was selected through an open call from a group of 121 applicants by a selection panel made up of two Scottsdale Public Art board members, a representative from the Transportation Department, an Arizona landscape architect, an Arizona artist, the lead city consultant on the project, and two area residents. Her selection was based on her past experience in creating public artworks and her history of designing projects that tell the ecological story of the place for which they are created. Levy was given information on the history and topography of the area, completed a site visit, and held a meeting with local Scottsdale community members in order to integrate their interests, concerns, and values into the design process.
With these elements in mind, Stacy Levy proposed Swale: Stylized steel red and green grasses and seed pods evoking the vegetation that grows in the lush areas of the Indian Bend Wash, and blue blades that are symbolic of the water that runs through the wash during flooding rains. Levy also spaced the blades across the bridge so as not to obstruct the views for which the sculpture was inspired, which was a central community concern.
One of Stacy Levy’s primary goals in making Swale was to create an iconic location for cyclist and pedestrians along the Indian Bend Wash. In the recent Scottsdale Public Art bicycle tour “Cycle The Arts,” which included over 70 locals and visitors, Stacy gave a talk to the cyclist about Swale, followed by a Q&A session. Local residents are extremely pleased with the installation and the artwork has even been given a colloquial nick-name, “the three-dot” bridge, referencing the blades with cluster of three seedpods.
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