Public art becomes Niles institution

Published 9:25 am Thursday, January 28, 2016

If you were among the estimated 20,000 people who attended last weekend’s Hunter Ice Festival, you participated in the enjoyment of “public art.” However, the public art on display was only temporary because the sculptures that lined the streets and our beautiful Riverfront Park were made of ice, not stone or bronze, steel, aluminum or marble.

Imagine for a moment if those sculptures didn’t all melt and were actually made of lasting, durable metals and stone and existed for decades to come for all to enjoy!

Have you noticed the new Main Street Bridge and its sweeping arches that really enhance the new structure? Those arches and the bridge’s bump-out viewing stations all add to the beauty of the new span and serve as yet another example of Niles public art. In other words, if you like looking at the new Main Street Bridge and attended the Hunter Ice Festival, you qualify as a lover of Niles public art.

Last summer, the City of Niles and the Niles City Council created the Niles Public Art Commission (NPAC) to help raise the private funds necessary to bring to the City of Four Flags a sculpture garden in Riverfront Park and throughout the City displaying statuary and monuments depicting famous Niles residents, historical figures and allegorical representations of great moments in Niles history.

Early settlers and missionaries, indigenous peoples, Fort St. Joseph, the Dodge Brothers, the railroad, Ring Lardner, prominent families and even Tommy James could all be carved or cast as sculpture and placed along the river.

The NPAC is currently conducting its first fundraising effort and it is proving to be quite successful. The funds that are initially raised will be used to purchase and place the first of 10 planned sculptures. “Generations” by prominent Granger artist Tuck Langland, will be placed at the corner of East Main and Seventh Streets on the lawn of the Niles District Library.

The vision of the Niles Public Art Commission and the Niles City Council is to make Niles a destination for people who enjoy great art and local history. The NPAC, which is being supported only by private donations, will also encourage and support all of the visual arts and provide art and history information through public presentations.

In fact, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, NPAC hosted its first public presentation featuring Niles native Michael Hambouz who now resides in New York City. Mr. Hambouz’s presentation at the Niles District Library featured his early recollections of growing up in Niles. His presentation was part of his “Factory Made” series, inspired by the French Paper Company. Hambouz’s Factory Made series will be on display through April 24, at the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph, Michigan.

And Mr. Hambouz’s collection is guaranteed not to melt!

Speaking from experience and for full disclosure, I graduated from Albion College with a dual major in political science and art history, and I am an ex officio member of the Niles Public Art Commission.


A native of Niles, Jack Strayer moved back home in 2009 after living and working in Washington DC since 1976. Strayer has served as a congressional staffer, state legislative press secretary, federal registered lobbyist and Vice President of the National Center for Policy Analysis. He is a nationally recognized expert on federal health policy reform and led the fight for the enactment of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).