Bursts of color: Sculptor Earl Dismuke shares his art in the community

Dismuke’s statues have been raised all over town, including outside of City Hall, Commodore Bob’s and Fire Station Park.

Students coming back from spring break may have noticed some whimsical pops of color throughout town.

Over the break, a team installed four art pieces by sculptor Earl Dismuke. The pieces are made of scrap metal painted bright colors and are arranged in inventive and abstract ways.

Lori Neuenfeldt, the gallery director at Mississippi State University in the art department, was one of the main members of this team who worked for over a year on getting these sculptures in the community. Neuenfeldt said the need for outdoor art installments became evident in the midst of the pandemic.

"When the pandemic hit people were looking for more things to do outdoors," Neuenfeldt said. "People were more aware of their environment, and needed to get out. Everyone felt like this was something the city definitely needed."

Neundfelt has been working in her position in the department of art for ten years. She is not from Mississippi but chooses to live here and help the community grow artistically.

"My goal is to find a way to bring art to the community," Neundfelt said, "Starkville is great, and it is so creative. It is the nicest place I have ever lived. Everyone deserves art, so really I am working for everyone in Starkville."

Dixie Boswell, the exhibition coordinator for the MSU art galleries, also had a big hand in the planning for these new installations and even helped with the physical aspects of installing the sculptures.

"We are hoping to help the public realize that art is for everyone," Boswell said. "It sounds cliche, but it's true."

A lot of time and planning went into getting these sculptures installed. And even after finally getting everything figured out, it took a whole day for the team to install the four creations around town.

Even with all of the challenges, the mayor of Starkville, Lynn Spruill, was on board with the plan from the beginning. The city sent a group to help Boswell and her team install the sculptures and even provided some of the heavy-duty equipment needed.

"Lynn Spruill is all about some public art," Boswell said, "It took a long time, with a lot of back and forth emails, but getting the thumbs up from the city was the easy part."

Like Neuenfeldt, Boswell did not always live in Mississippi. Boswell lived in Los Angeles for a while before returning to Starkville, where she attended school at MSU for undergrad.

"People asked me why I came back to Mississippi," Boswell said, "It's because there is art everywhere. It is just as good if not better than stuff in New York and LA. It is definitely less pretentious."

Earl Dismuke, the sculptor, is a graduate from the University of Mississippi. He has been creating since he was very young, and has been involved in many different public art installations and art galleries around Mississippi.

"I hope that these sculptures are a bright spot for the community," Dismuke said. "People can come up to them, interact with them and bring a little bit of themselves into them. I hope they keep the community thinking about and interested in art and inspire them to make their own works or even go see an art show."

Dismuke's imaginative sculptures are made of scraps he has collected and given new life in the form of art. Each piece has a name, but the meaning of the pieces is left to the audience.

The piece located on the roundabout in front of City Hall is called "Toro;" the one at the MSU Innovation Hub is titled "Stand Tall." The piece at Commodore Bob's is called "Molly Ringwald," and the one located at Fire Station Park is called "Big Dreamer."

"Public art is a great equalizer," Dismuke said, "People get to experience art in their daily lives. There will be a whole group of children who are growing up in Starkville and will grow up around and understand the importance of public art."

The interactive nature of public art is what attracted the art department towards Dismuke's work.

"A great thing about public art is that it levels the playing field," Boswell said, "You can walk right up to it, take a selfie with it, drive by it, you don't have to pay admission. This may make people more comfortable coming to our gallery and seeing art and starting conversations and hanging out."

The time and effort put into getting these sculptures where they are was not done by only these three people. It was truly a community effort. Other people who played a role in this project were Mayor Lynn Spruill, MSU Department of Art Head Critz Campbell, the Starkville Area Arts Council Executive Director Mary Switzer, Paige Watson and Paige Hunter with Starkville Visitor and Convention Council at the GSDP and the Camp Family.

"This isn't the vision of just one person," Neundfelt said. "This was a community project. Our goal is to have more opportunities to bring more art to the public and engage with the community. Having these right downtown, right on Main Street, I think we are going to get more people exposed to art than ever before and that's what it's really all about."

The hope of those involved is to increase awareness in the community of the importance of art.

Throughout the years, they want to feature more artists and make Starkville a city that is rich in art and creativity.

To see more art in Starkville, follow @msu_artgalleries on Instagram or visit the MSU museum website to learn about the various galleries on campus.

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