Encased in glass or roped off in museums, fine art is often treated as untouchable.

But the sculpture unveiled last week at Waunakee High School is nothing like those works.

As Michael Kalish described the sculpture monument at Waunakee High School last week, it “pushes the envelope on interactive public art.”

“I think there’s a need to interact with [art], and push the envelope on creativity,” Kalish said.

Kalish called it the “most functional sculpture I’ve ever built,” one that lights up at night and invites students to climb and sit on it.

“Art shouldn’t have such restrictions,” Kalish said.

Titled, “Illuminating a Path,” the sculpture was unveiled May 15 after more than a year of collaboration between the Waunakee Public Art Committee, art instructors, and more importantly, Waunakee area students, whom the piece is meant to celebrate.

The idea came about four years ago or so when several community members talked about celebrating Waunakee’s tradition of excellence in education, said Nick Mischler, one Public Art Committee member, during a ceremony prior to the unveiling.

Mischler noted that as the group was talking, they asked one another how they came to live in the Waunakee area.

“The answer was the school district,” Mischler said, noting that it has contributed to the area’s growth and prosperity.

Ranked among the top academic districts in the state, Mischler said district leaders’ dedication became clear in the 1960s, when then superintendent Dick Trotta and high school principal Jack Reed sought accreditation for the high school.

Since then, many have helped maintain the district’s reputation for excellence.

“It has taken a labor of love from teachers, staff and administrators, many who have worked for decades in our school district and when they retire, volunteer to work in the school district and serve on the board of education,” Mischler said.

Parents and especially students, who work hard and love to learn, also play a large role.

“It’s the students’ hard work that we celebrate today,” Mischler said.

Waunakee students performed “Peaceful Valley” during the ceremony, a piece composed for the village.

Not only is the finished product interactive, it is the product of a collaborative process.

School Superintendent Randy Guttenberg noted that community members were part of the process from the inception, as were the students, who wrote the book titles on the 4-foot sculpture of stacked tomes.

Guttenberg noted how much the artist interacted with the students.

“I really appreciate how he’s embraced our students and our community,” he said about Kalish.

As they contributed to the design and considered titles for the bindings, the students reflected on their own experiences. The sculpture represents “what our kids think about where they live, where they’re growing up and where they come from,” Guttenberg said.

Waunakee Intermediate School Art Teacher Melanie Trainor-Burton helped direct a student narrated piece depicting the creation process. After much collaboration, the designs were approved by the school board and Kalish; then his team went to work on it in Los Angeles. This spring, the Community Drive site for it was excavated and readied for the sculpture’s delivery, and the concrete colored pieces were assembled on site.

During the ceremony, Kalish called the process “delightful.”

“I can honestly say this has been the most enjoyable process I have ever had,” he said.

He described the many teleconference calls, emails and meetings with those involved.

“There were so many people involved in this, so many chefs in the kitchen,” he said, adding often that’s a negative description, but in this case was positive.

Kalish said he hopes the sculpture becomes part of the community.

“It has been created out of love,” he said.

Immediately after the unveiling, students appeared to take ownership of the sculpture, soon clambering on it as onlookers photographed them.

Kalish, too, photographed the moment.

“This is yours now, so I hope you enjoy it. And I hope it brings you as much pleasure as it has for us,” he said.

An addition to the sculpture – an open book with its name and the artist’s signature – is also in the works. It is also intended to recognize the many who donated to the project.

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