The “Equitas” sculpture by Blessing Hancock outside of the Salem Police Department on Friday, Dec. 18. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

What Blessing Hancock loves most about public art pieces is their ability to surprise people.

When people pass Salem’s new police station, the artist is hoping they will enjoy the “happy shape” covered in words that was installed in September.

The sculpture is titled “Equitas” and is meant to represent justice and harmony. Hancock said the art piece was designed with the understanding that many people come to the police station under duress and the sculpture was meant to be a counter to that.

“The story was going to be this positive, welcoming impression of the police department,” Hancock said. “A balanced, rounded stone would be a good representation for that feeling.”

Words on the sculpture include “strength,” “character,” and “teamwork.”

The process to create the artwork started in 2018 ahead of the start of construction of the new Salem police headquarters. Voters passed a bond to pay for the station in May 2017 and construction costs proved more costly than initially expected, bringing the project total to more than $72 million.

Salem law requires construction projects on public buildings spend .5% of the total budget on public art. The piece cost $246,000.

The “Equitas” sculpture by Blessing Hancock outside of the Salem Police Department on Friday, Dec. 18. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Christine D’Arcy, chair of the Salem Public Art Commission, said a selection committee sought proposals from a handful of artists through an open competitive process for what could work in front of the station.

She said the committee didn’t want the station to look like a fortress and were intrigued by Hancock’s idea to incorporate words and phrases related to the mission of Salem police.

“Her plan to incorporate words that would be readily understood by people coming in and out of the building and using a public process to collect words was appealing,” D’Arcy said.

She said more than 1,000 words were submitted, collected at events like the city’s Public Works Day.

Hancock said she had comment cards for adults and drawing exercises for kids and encouraged people to write phrases in different languages.

One phrase was cut from the artwork before it was installed following the racial justice protests over the summer, Hancock said.

The term “Thin Blue Line” was replaced with “equal justice,” to avoid being divisive. Thin Blue Line flags have been seen as a symbol of solidarity with law enforcement but have been criticized for creating an “us versus them” mentality and have been prominently displayed at some protests, like a Monday demonstration at the Capitol that turned violent.

The sculpture is made out of painted aluminum and lit up from the inside with LED lighting.

Hancock said the shape is like a happy Buddha, a soft cohesive form that looks like a balanced stone sitting on a point.

She sees her work as an artist as being an intermediary, taking the community’s input and turning it into a tangible form.

Hancock said she loves seeing people with her work and encourages them to tag her in pictures they take on Instagram @blessinghancock.

“I love to see the longevity of it, saying hello to it, when I can’t be there in person,” she said. “I just love seeing that.”

 Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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