Urban chicken has a message

Urban chicken has a message

Staff WriterMarch 19, 2005 

Art can be political, but can oversized poultry be persuasive?

On Monday, Durham Central Park Inc. unveiled its third public art installation, a 7-foot-tall hen crafted from foam, string lights, steel rebar, wire fencing and CDs. "Holli Dae Hen," created by by Durham stone wall builder Richard Mullinax, will preside over today's egg hunt at the park on Foster Street.

The big chicken has another role. In November, Mullinax tried to change city rules so residents could keep chickens as pets. The City Council never voted on the issue.

Now Mullinax is hoping that "Holli Dae Hen" will encourage more public art and give chickens their day in the city-sanctioned spotlight. "You can't shut all of the natural world away just because you live in an urban setting," Mullinax said. "I'd like to see us embrace chickens."

Mullinax is pretty sure he isn't the only person with an interest in the urban chicken. By Friday, an unknown artist had left a glitter-covered, oversized egg in a faux-grass bed at Holli Dae's feet and a foam box decorated with an orange foam beak.

While the park isn't taking a stance on chickens, park staff thought "Holli Dae Hen" and the city's 10-day limit on public art installations would help attract attention to spring activities at the park, said Leigh Scott, director of the park's managing nonprofit.

At 10 a.m. today, Durham Central Park will host an egg toss, egg and spoon roll and Easter-themed craft session for children. At 10:30, Wool E. Bull, the Durham Bulls' mascot, will arrive to kick off a hunt for 3,000 candy-filled eggs at 11 a.m.

When "Holli Dae Hen" is removed March 28, a bronze bull will likely be installed. In January, fund-raisers for the Durham Symphony Orchestra were allowed to install a Hollywood Hills-style display of the word "Durham."

Durham Central Park Inc. would like a steady stream of temporary art installations in hopes of bringing more people to the park and contributing to the city's overall appearance, Scott said.

The city issues public art permits that are generally good for only two weeks. Similar time-limit ordinances and displays have been credited with driving large numbers of people to municipal parks.

When The Gates, a series of saffron-colored curtains hung between similarly colored square arches, was displayed in New York's Central Park in February, park managers logged about 4 million visits, said Jennifer Pucci, manager of public relations for the Central Park Conservancy. During the same two-week period, New York's Central Park typically logs about 750,000 visits, Pucci said.

Mullinax created Durham Central Park's first unofficial public art installation last March. That display featured two female mannequins, under a silver lame arch bearing the words "Just Luv."

Mullinax and his partner, Perry Pike, also sued the Durham County register of deeds in an effort to obtain a marriage license last March. Their suit was dismissed by a judge who deemed the suit a constitutional matter fit for a higher court.

City staff removed "Just Luv" because Mullinax had not obtained a permit. But a permitting process for public art in Durham didn't exist. So the city created one.

Staff Writer Janell Ross can be reached at 956-2415 or jross@newsobserver.com.

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