Suzanne Perez Tobias

New Wichita State sculpture invites lovers and others to linger on campus

The newest art installation at Wichita State is a salute to love and an invitation to linger.

It’s also an acknowledgment that WSU’s Innovation Campus needs more than snazzy buildings, a shopping center, fountains or landscaping to become a true gathering spot for students and the community.

Love Locks Pod, a 16-foot-tall egg-shaped structure just east of WSU’s Food Truck Plaza, will be dedicated at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. During the Valentine’s Day ceremony, people will be invited to place a personalized lock on the sculpture and toss their key into the nearby pond, similar to the “love locks” tradition on bridges in Paris and other parts of the world.

It’s the first in a series of pods envisioned as interactive public art on the campus. University planners see them as part of a creative placemaking initiative intended to draw students and community members to a part of campus that currently doesn’t get much pedestrian traffic.

“I see them as gathering places, as hangout spots, where you can say, ‘Hey, meet me at the pod,’” said Brady Hatter, the 34-year-old artist who proposed, designed and built the pod. “I hope people will enjoy it and kind of tap into all the creative energy that went into it.”

Hatter, who earned a fine arts degree from WSU in 2009, works as a supervisor in the university’s carpentry shop. His vision calls for two more pods to be installed this spring — one covered in flowering vines near the Woodman Alumni Center and another stained-glass “Shocker Pod” between The Flats apartment buildings.

“Each pod will dot the horizon, inviting you to explore and walk to the next,” he said.

Inside the pod, there will be enough seating for a family or small group to share a meal, play a board game or study for a test.

It’s an admirable goal — giving people a reason to make a trip, park the car and bike or stroll around Braeburn Square or other parts of the WSU campus. The pods continue a tradition of spectacular outdoor sculptures at the university, adding an interactive element that should bolster exploration and walkability.

What kind of locks will go on Love Locks Pod?

Hatter envisions a kaleidoscope of padlocks with different colors and finishes, engraved or labeled with permanent marker. They could memorialize engagements or marriages, but also other important milestones, such as graduations or getting a job.

At the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris, the weight of so many romantic padlocks began threatening the structure of the bridge and had to be removed. Hatter said that would be “an awfully great problem to have” at WSU’s new Love Locks Pod.

“If that happens eventually — wonderful,” he said. “We could absolutely cut them off and start all over.”

I agree. Dotting WSU’s campus with little alcoves — and giving romantics another way to declare their devotion — sounds like a lovely idea.

Suzanne Perez Tobias is a columnist and member of The Eagle’s editorial board. During her nearly 30 years at the newspaper, she has covered breaking news, education, local government and other topics. An avid reader, Suzanne also oversees The Eagle’s books coverage and coordinates the annual #ReadICT Challenge. She can be reached at 316-268-6567.