Ga. city revives project honoring firefighters

Duluth's living veterans, police officers and firefighters will be recognized by the Living Honorarium

By Shane Blatt
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DULUTH, Ga. — Duluth has resurrected a 5-year-old project to create a timeless monument for the city's living veterans, police officers and firefighters.

The Living Honorarium, once dubbed the Living Memorial, was conceived in 2005 but foundered in late 2007 as Duluth faced a souring economy and plans for a new $13 million City Hall.

Last week, city leaders jump-started the project and changed the focus from architecture to artistry. They handed the reins — and a scaled-back budget — to the Duluth Fine Arts League.

"At first, [the city was] more going along the lines of the architecture," said Jennifer Freeman, an artist and DFAL member. "It's become sort of a different animal."

Already, the league has selected a 35-foot-by-50-foot spot dead center on Town Green in downtown. And in May, it will issue a call to artists for the $50,000 public art award, a far cry from the once-estimated $150,000 to $300,000 for architectural engineering.

"It's a totally different feel now — more of an artistic feel," said Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter, Duluth's former mayor who came up with the idea.

In 2007, the city conducted a competition to generate ideas for the monument. Lasseter and other jurors — including Michael Arad, who designed the memorial for the World Trade Center in New York — picked a design by a 22-year-old Georgia Tech architecture student. It was a 32-foot-long stone wall dotted with 3,000 tiny holes, an estimate of the number of service personnel living in the city.

"After [the contest], the project started idling for a while because we've been trying to raise a bit more money for it," said Alisa Williams, the city's director of marketing and public information. "We had to go a different route because of the cost."

The Gwinnett County city of 26,000 is known for displaying hundreds of crosses and flags bearing the names of fallen veterans. But, Lasseter said, little attention is paid to living people who put their lives on the line.

"This is our way of saying to all the firemen and policemen and veterans we really appreciate you keeping us safe from harm," Lasseter said. She noted that the winning design will have universal appeal, not "some bronze statue of a firefighter."

Chris McGahee, Duluth's economic development manager, said selecting an artist and commissioning the work will take six to nine months. Ultimately, he said, the piece will be a destination for passers-by to stop, study and contemplate.

"We are looking to honor local people," he said, "but I think it would reach and touch anyone who serves."

Copyright 2010 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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