BEAR: What is Bear Fever? And is it catching?
JS: Well, I’ll answer your second question first by saying that I hope you’ll catch Bear Fever! We want you to catch it; we’re not looking for a cure.
BEAR: Cute, but seriously, what is Bear Fever?
JS: Bear Fever is the name we gave to our current community art project with plans to bring lots of fiberglass bears decorated by professional artists to the streets of Boyertown for the community’s beautification and enjoyment.
BEAR: OK, so Bear Fever is about art?
JS: Yes, promoting the arts in Boyertown is definitely part of our project, but our mission statement is to promote community spirit and cohesiveness.
I was inspired by the introduction to the book Parade Animals which described the community spirit and fun that was developed in Washington, D.C. through the project.
Artists worked with community members and business owners, and everyone got to know each other better and appreciate one another. Boyertown—well, everywhere—can use more community spirit and cohesiveness!
BEAR: OK, so Bear Fever is about art and community spirit. Anything else?
JS: Actually, yes. When the committee first started meeting and there was money available from a grant written by Dr. John Bakken to purchase our first two bears so long as students were involved with community members, the committee loved the idea of involving students in the entire project. And so, the career development portion of the project was added, and students have been and are involved in all sorts of ways.
They are writing newspaper articles; doing radio and television interviews; speaking at civic organizations and business breakfast meetings; working on the art part of the bears (research, design and implementation); creating video commercials; taking photographs; learning grantwriting, business practices and zoning laws; designing and creating types of mountings and installations; developing promotional projects and fundraising ideas; and getting to know everyone involved—business sponsors, artists, employees in assorted businesses, media personnel. Some students are part of our Adopt-a-Bear program keeping notes about what they learn through interviewing and journaling so that perhaps one day we’ll be able to write our own book about the project.
BEAR: So, you really meant it; there is no cure for Bear Fever.
JS: I hope not. We’re looking for ways to involve folks in this project beyond the fiberglass bears themselves; the bears will be finished by May 2005 when we’ll display the entire collection at the Arts Expo 2005. But beyond the bears themselves, we hope to create a book, posters…you name it…to put Boyertown on the map for yet another reason.
BEAR: Sounds like a lot of work.
JS: Absolutely. And we’re determined that Bear Fever be a lot of fun, too!
BEAR: So, who’s “we?”
JS: Our primary committee members include our project coordinator Jill Dennin, a parent volunteer who has served as volunteer coordinator for other projects within the district; Mayor Marianne Deery; artist, interior designer, community activist Gretchen Lea who coordinated the first Boyertown Holiday Open House Tour; Boyertown’s Main Street Manager Linda Flederbach; students like Josie Moore and Christy Pierce; my husband Paul, a marketing consultant, and myself. I try to handle promotional activities and coordination of student involvement.
The committee is all volunteer and continues to show that there are so many good people in our community who want the best for Boyertown, who want to keep Boyertown a special kind of place, and are willing to work hard and give of themselves, their time, their money toward building a better Boyertown.
BEAR: Sounds like the project is off to a good start.
JS: We think so. Bear Fever seems to have touched a chord in our community among folks of all walks of life and of all ages to come together to work hard and have fun and learn.
We were inspired by people’s initial positive reaction to the project. People with a special kind of sight, a special vision, can see where the project is headed and the benefits that may surface from this kind of endeavor. Their positive spirit inspires the committee. And, now that first two bears are completed, they inspire other folks.
BEAR: Tell us about Momma and Papa Bear.
JS: I’m so proud of our first two bears which were debuted at the Arts Expo, May 1, 2004. Our “2-D” bear features historical sites and buildings around Boyertown and was researched, designed, and fashioned by students here at BASH , retired art teacher Sandy Wood and art teacher Debbie Benfield.
Our “3-D” bear, suited in “armor” made of recycled aluminum cans, makes an environmental statement: our wildlife is endangered by the products of modern life—like soda cans. Art instructor Thomas Dareneau and senior Stephen Garrison were the primary arts for our “3-D” bear. They spent hundreds of hours fashioning their bear.
BEAR: Let’s talk details. Who’s buying the bears and for how much?
JS: Generally, businesses in the area are demonstrating their community spirit by funding this project. The businesses buy a bear. Or more than one bear in some cases. Each bear can be sponsored for $2,500 which includes the fiberglass bear in one of two forms plus shipping ($1400). That’s the bulk of the expense. Cowpainters, a company in Chicago, creates the forms and manufactures the bears. The rest of the cost includes a small stipend for artists to cover time and materials, a clear coat which protects the bear from the weather, a standard installation fee, and promotional costs associated with the project.
Our local businesses have been very supportive—excited, actually, about the project and how it can benefit the community. It gives them a chance to have a little fun with their marketing dollars as well as demonstrate their love of the arts and their support for education all at the same time. The project seems to be a win-win for everyone.
BEAR: What happens to the bears eventually?
JS: Well, the businesses or groups or individuals—the sponsors—will decide what to do with their bears for the long-term. We’d like to display them at the Arts Expo next spring; but, after that, the owners will take possession and enjoy them wherever they like. Perhaps they’ll be on display at their place of business or perhaps if the company is not local, they’ll allow it to be displayed at a local establishment which couldn’t afford to sponsor their own bear.
BEAR: Will you have a bear? And, if so, how would it be fashioned?
JS: Yes, my husband and I are sponsoring a bear; we’ve asked Will Dexter from Taylor Backes to “do” our bear, and I’m really thrilled! I know it will be beautiful, and I don’t even need to know what he has in mind for it.
But if I were to “do” a bear, my bear would be decorated with sunshine and flowers and rainbows; blue skies, and cocker spaniels; autumn leaves and children making snow angels. There would be a least one flamingo, one duck, several fish, and a dandelion puff.
BEAR: That’s a strange assortment of images!
JS: I know; you’d have to know me and my family to understand..
And, that’s the fun part of the project—providing a vehicle for folks to get to know each other better, have some fun together and create a thing of beauty. Life doesn’t get any better than that!