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Arts commission hears ideas for Tatum memorial

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Art Tatum

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The paving stones leading to a planned sculpture in International Park honoring Toledo-born jazz legend Art Tatum could be made to look like piano keys. And donors could have their names, business logos, or words of wisdom engraved on them.

That was one of the ideas that sparked interest yesterday among about 15 artists, jazz aficionados, and community-minded folks who considered possibilities for the design, placement, and funding for a major work of art to honor Tatum.

The Arts Commission of Greater Toledo plans to spend at least $250,000 on a sculpture to be completed by 2006, the 50th anniversary of the death of the pianist known for his delicate touch and swinging beat.

But none of the plans are, well, etched in stone.

Yesterday's meeting at the Kent branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library was the second public brainstorming session held last week by the arts commission's Art Tatum Memorial Design Review Board.

Marc Folk, the commission's Art in Public Places director, promised to meet with local jazz groups and Tatum enthusiasts before putting out an international call for sculpture proposals late this spring.

By late summer, the board hopes to select a design and have a model of it made. Then, for at least six months, it expects to raise money. More than 90 percent of the cost of the sculpture, landscaping, and other work is expected to come from private donations. The board expects to learn by June how much the city of Toledo will contribute.

But if any of those phases of the project are more time-consuming than expected, the board will simply take an intermission. Delaying the project by three years to 2009 would allow the sculpture to be unveiled on Tatum's 100th birthday.

The Tatum sculpture is to be one of the few works subsidized by Toledo's 1 percent for art program that honors one specific person. It is the most expensive sculpture among the program's 45 major works that is to be funded largely from private donations, Mr. Folk said.

"It's something that needs to be a big thing," Glenn Osborn, a jazz fan from Perrysburg, told Tatum memorial board leaders yesterday. "We're dealing with something much bigger than a local artist. He had a gigantic influence on the music of the world."

Mr. Osborn, who is a writer, designer, and photographer, has a concept for an abstract sculpture that he plans to submit to the board. But he said he hopes the arts commission makes every effort to attract proposals from the world's most talented sculptors.

"I would be delighted to be at the very bottom of the list and be rejected," he said.

Contact Jane Schmucker at jschmucker@theblade.com or 419 724-6102.

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