When financial hardships befell Grant County, Ind., three-and-a-half years ago, leaders and residents alike began looking for ways to restore the economy and morale. After the loss of a television tube manufacturing plant and other businesses, the county was struggling to free itself from debt. Pete Beck, a retired schoolteacher and coach, soon realized that the county — the birthplace of legendary actor James Dean and Garfield creator Jim Davis — could use its celebrity connections to attract visitors, restore community pride and increase revenues. To do that, Beck proposed installing Garfield statues in each of the county's nine communities.
To generate ideas for Grant County's project, Beck traveled to various cities with similar public art displays, including Lansing, Mich.; Billings, Mont.; and Ocala, Fla. “We were pulling strings trying to come up with some innovative way of creating more income in our county,” Beck says. “I was just trying to think of some way to enhance tourism and at the same time, come up with something that might encourage kids to be creative.”
Then Beck, also a former county councilmember, got approval from Davis to use his character, and he met with the nine communities over eight months to generate interest in the project. Beck says each community chose the look, placement and time the statues' unveiling. In addition, each five-foot-tall, fiberglass Garfield was intended to reflect the personality and spirit of each town and was to be accessible and erected in a safe and secure area.
In August, the first Garfield statue, designed by an elementary school student, was unveiled in Van Buren during its annual Popcorn Festival. The oversized cat stands atop of pile of books outside the town library, holding a box of popcorn in one paw and a globe in the other. A popcorn kernel is placed on the globe, designating the location of the city. In Marion, Garfield is clad in a jogging suit and sweatband and is positioned at the beginning of the town's two-and-a-half mile riverwalk. Sweetser, the site of a railroad park, will show the character as a student boarding a train with a suitcase in hand. Other statues include an homage to James Dean in Fairmount, where Garfield is dressed in blue jeans, a red windbreaker and a white T-shirt, giving a thumbs-up signal.
The remaining statues will be installed by 2007, including a generic Garfield that will stand at the county's busiest intersection, the site of motels, gas stations, restaurants and a convention center. Wearing a T-shirt that says, “Where cool is born” — another tribute to James Dean — Garfield will hold a sign to welcome visitors to the county.
Each statue cost from $7,000 to $8,500, and all were funded without tax dollars. Instead, each town, led by its own planning committee, held fundraisers to pay for their Garfields. Many communities sold dedication bricks to be placed at the base of each statue. Community organizations and the Marion-Grant County Convention and Visitors Bureau also made contributions.
Although designing, funding and installing the remaining statutes is still in the works, Beck says that some communities are considering creating statues of other Garfield characters, such as the cat's owner Jon and his canine pal Odie. Also, local businesses may erect smaller Garfield statues, too. But first, Beck's focus remains on the task at hand — completing the statues for his community. “I do whatever I can to help people and [this project was] just an idea [that we] had, and I'm thrilled that it's happening,” Beck says.