Dressing up the Terminal Tower (1974)

June 20, 1973
Cleveland Area Arts Council
510 The Arcade
Dear Cleveland Area Arts Council:
As an artist who is currently living in Cleveland, I would like to propose a piece that I could execute which would make Cleveland a prettier place to live in. The piece would consist of two slipcovers for the Terminal Tower: a purple velvet one for winter, and a white one with pink polka dots for summer. I would appreciate an answer on whether you would sponsor such a project. Thank you.

Yours truly, Mimi Smith

July 5, 1973
Mimi Smith
2476 Euclid Hts. Blvd.
Cleveland Hts.
Dear Ms. Smith:
I am in receipt of your interesting letter, but I am not sure that you realize just how we work. If you were to try to get support for your idea, we could help you try to find support, but we ourselves do not sponsor individual artists. If there should be an opportunity for commissioning works of art, we would consider those artists who wish to be considered for such an event. I am enclosing a copy of our Bicentennial Competition so you can see just what I mean.
As to your idea, I have some questions. Have you thought of the material for the white one since in an industrial city such as Cleveland it might not stay white very long? Also, how much material would you need — in other words, the cost of such a project? Would you do the sewing yourself? How long do you think it would take you? It is an unusual idea.

Sincerely, Nina Gibans Executive Director

August 8, 1973
Nina Gibans
Dear Ms. Gibans:
Thank you for your thoughtful response of July 5, 1973. I have considered your questions concerning my proposal for a Terminal Tower project. The white slipcover with pink polka dots would be made from oilcloth so that it could be hosed down periodically. I would need approximately 25,216 yards of material for each cover. At retail prices the cost for the material should be $126,080. I estimate that the project should take at least 5,120 hours. At $3 an hour, the labor should cost $15,360. There would also be the cost of helicopters to lower the covers in place, and other miscellaneous items.

Yours truly, Mimi Smith

What is the criteria for covering the Terminal Tower with slipcovers? For winter you need a heavy material to keep the tower warm, and for summer you need a lighter, gay material with a nice motif. This is the same logic used by the average woman in designing her living room decor, but Mimi Smith has taken that logic to its extreme conclusion.

There is no denying the humorous aspects of a 40-story slipcover or the fact she estimated the time and money for such a project. I don’t intend to go into whether it would be practical; what is important is to realize that Ms. Smith has taken feminine-cliche logic out of its structure (the home) and put it into an art context. She is satirizing the attitudes of middle-class women and poking fun at traditional large masculine heroic monuments, in this case, the Terminal Tower. What would happen if an average married woman from Shaker Heights or Lakewood had to formulate an idea for a large public work? If she drew from her life experience, the result might be naive and unexpected.

This idea exists on two levels for Ms. Smith. She knows it would be hard to find support for an impractical project like this, and it is almost sufficient if it exists only on paper. However, at the same time, she would like to build some of her ideas and is interested in total process — an idea taken to its final conclusion or construction.

Some of her other Cleveland beautification ideas reflect the same logic as the Terminal slipcover. She wants to cover Euclid Avenue with curb-to-curb carpeting and clothe 11 dissimilar buildings in Cleveland with matching material, for example, making a house on East 93rd Street match a North Park mansion — rendering both classless because their covering would make them look the same.

“I like the fact that people smile at my stuff, but I couldn’t be more serious. It’s more than just satire ... I want people to think of the implications of the project’s reality,” said Ms. Smith.

Mimi Smith, 31, grew up in a middle-class family in the small town of Milton, Mass. She attended art school in Boston. After graduation, she held a series of nondescript jobs until graduate school at Rutgers University. The highlight of her 1966 M.F.A. show there was a wedding gown made of plastic lace and plastic material — a commentary, it would seem, on the state of matrimony. She came to Cleveland with her husband, Bert Lieberman, who taught mathematics one year at Cleveland State University.

Ms. Smith is now designing clothes for certain national monuments, including the Statue of Liberty. “Something to jazz her up,” as Ms. Smith says. Plans include a seasonal wardrobe, with a fur coat for winter. Each outfit would have matching jewelry. One can imagine diamonds dripping from the Terminal Tower.

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