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TIME BRINGS ACCEPTANCE TO SCULPTURE

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When Nancy Mulnix made her pitch for the first government-sponsored sculpture in America to be located here, many in this conservative town argued it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.

And when they found out the 43-foot-high abstract sculpture in the heart of downtown would be painted red, they figured it must be part of a communist plot, she recalls.Twenty-five years later, the likeness of Alexander Calder's "La Grande Vitesse" - loosely translated as "the grand rapids" - is on the city's letterhead, its street signs, its souvenir mugs - even the side of its garbage trucks.

On Friday, residents, art lovers and government officials gathered at "The Calder" to mark its anniversary and pay tribute to what would be the first of hundreds of federally commissioned sculptures nationwide.

"People forget now, because modern sculptures are in a lot of American cities, how unusual it was in the late '60s for a city - especially the size of Grand Rapids - to commission a modern artist to create a monumental sculpture for a plaza," said John Wetenhall, an art historian.

"Even as they were preparing for the dedication, there were backward, penny-pinching arguments from conservatives who complained it was un-American and that they'd rather have a pool that had been planned for the spot."

The open plaza on which the sculpture stands, now known as Calder Plaza, has been the site of countless ceremonies and festivals, including the annual three-day local arts festival that is expected to draw 600,000 people this weekend.