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Firestorm statue toppled

A proposed statue that ignited community controversy is no longer destined for downtown Medford.

Instead a subcommittee is being formed with members of the Downtown Medford Association, Medford Arts Commission and representatives from the community to find another art project that more people might find suitable.

“At this point, we’re back to the drawing board to determine what we can do with a bigger group,” said EJ McManus, president of the Downtown Medford Association.

McManus was one of the organizers of the proposed 20-foot “Firestorm” statue that had four stylized figures standing against an illuminated structure depicting flames.

“The Firestorm proposal is not on the agenda for the subcommittee,” he said.

Medford City Council authorized $33,750 in financial support for the $75,000 project but then withdrew the authorization in the face of criticism from those who called the statue “creepy” or “morbid.”

“We hear the concerns of those that live in Medford as well as our Rogue Valley neighbors and respect everyone’s experience with the tragic Almeda fire,” according to a letter released by the City Council after it withdrew its financial support.

A change.org petition gathered more than 1,000 names from people opposed to the project.

Mandy Capehart, the petition organizer, has been invited to join the subcommittee to help select artwork for downtown.

McManus said supporters were surprised by the reaction from the public.

He said the Downtown Medford Association, whose mission is to revitalize the downtown, was not part of the organizing team behind the “Firestorm” project.

Two members of the board, Lindsay Berryman, who recently ended her term on the board, and McManus, did lend their help to bring the project to the downtown through a public-private partnership.

He said the newly formed subcommittee will look at various other proposals for a downtown art project, including proposals that aren’t related to the devastation of the Almeda fire, which destroyed 2,500 residences.

He said this means the statue proposed by artist Robert Barnum will not be considered, though Barnum could submit other ideas for artwork along with various other artists, McManus said.

When the “Firestorm” statue was first discussed, it was thought of as a private venture, and supporters hadn’t yet reached out to the public to get comments, McManus said.

The statue was going to be installed at the corner of Fifth Street and Riverside Avenue and would have been visible from the viaduct on Interstate 5.

The artist, Robert Barnum, said his intention was to honor the fire victims and to make a bold statement about the impact the Almeda fire had on the community.

Barnum, resident artist at Ferris State University, said he thinks his idea for the statue could serve as a state monument, and he hopes to find another community that would be interested in erecting it.

“It’s a monument,” he said. “It’s dedicated to those who lost their lives.”

Barnum, who grew up in Jackson County, suggested that community members work to erect a “healing garden” to remember the fire, though he said he personally wouldn’t want to undertake the project.

The statue could be erected somewhere in Oregon, but Barnum said he’s hoping it would be located in Southern Oregon.

While he’s hoping to get support from the local community, Barnum said he still would like the statue to reflect a strong and impactful statement that would last for centuries.

“We can’t defeat the character of the piece,” he said. “The conversation has to have value.”

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.