Dream unwillingly deferred: Still lack funding to build Statue of Responsibility

By Justin Moyer
Thursday, April 8, 2010; C03

Here in America, we like it when dreams come true. Barack Obama dreamed of becoming our nation's first black president, and when he did, many of us celebrated. Sandra Bullock, star of "Speed" and "Miss Congeniality," dreamed of winning an Oscar for Best Actress, and when she did, many of us celebrated. And if and when Daniel Bolz, who dreams of building a bronze, 300-foot-high Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast, succeeds where others have failed, we'll celebrate. We might not totally understand, but we'll celebrate.

"This project speaks to the core issue of our country -- that of preserving freedom," says Bolz, president of the Salt Lake City-based Statue of Responsibility Foundation.

Since 2002, Bolz has been trying to create a West Coast complement to New York's Statue of Liberty. Building a monument in Lady Liberty's league isn't for amateurs: Statues are expensive, and Bolz needs $300 million, only $200,000 of which has been committed. But he has his 501(c)(3) exemption. He has a board of trustees. He has a sculptor, a design and a five-phase plan, but no host city. He has his eye on San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. (As no metropolis has stepped up, you can still vote for your preference on the statue's Web site.)

Last month, after Bolz lobbied his local representative, the Utah legislature unanimously declared the state as the statue's birthplace even though it hasn't been built and will be built elsewhere -- if it's built at all.

Bolz was elated. With unbridled enthusiasm -- and in a clipped accent that makes one think of Jerry Lundegaard in "Fargo" as muscular, short "e's" and epic "i's" crackle across the phone line -- this native of Michigan's sparsely populated Upper Peninsula outlines his aesthetic vision: "Freedom and the preservation of freedom preside above all of the good from which all good flows."

Bolz's Statue of Responsibility won't just reflect Dubya's post-9/11 "make no mistake" version of freedom, all yellow ribbons and "Mission Accomplished" banners. This is Jimmy Carter freedom, too -- existential, malaise-y. It's the kind of freedom that comes with Tom Hanks storming the beaches at Normandy in "Saving Private Ryan" -- it's freedom with responsibility attached.

Bolz got the idea for the project from Viktor Frankl, the Viennese psychotherapist and a survivor of Dachau, who wrote about it in his 1946 bestseller, "Man's Search for Meaning." Meaning, not faith or money, was at the center of Frankl's signature mental health theory, "logotherapy," forged during the Holocaust. And how can our lives mean anything if we don't take responsibility for our actions?

"In fact," Frankl wrote, "freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness."

That's a heck of a lot for a bronze statue to mean, but Bolz says Frankl's populist message isn't just for shrinks anymore. Bolz, whose father liberated concentration camps during World War II, came across Frankl's book as a political science major at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, and got a napalm-free taste of freedom-preservation serving in Germany during the Vietnam era. Then, in 2002, Gary Lee Price, a Utah sculptor, invited him to a meeting of the Statue of Responsibility Foundation, founded in 1997, around the time of Frankl's death.

The foundation brought together statue-minded Frankl enthusiasts but hadn't progressed much further than commissioning Price to design the monument. Bolz helped outline a plan, search for prospective host cities ("It's like pitching the Olympics," he says), mount a social media campaign ("Everyone's into social media") and organize a 2004 trip to Vienna to get approval from Eleonore Frankl, Viktor's widow (who suggested they hit up "Jewish bankers because they have a lot of money").

"For whatever reason, it hasn't happened until now," Bolz says. "We believe now is the best time. . . . I said, 'Dang it, I'm gonna make this happen.' "

Price's design is of an enormous hand emerging from the heavens to grasp (comfort? lift?) another hand emerging from the earth.

"It's our connection with others, with other countries, with other people, with other tribes," says Price, 54. "I'm sure you've seen 'Avatar.' . . . The message of how we're all one."

But Price perhaps bears an artistic burden greater than even James Cameron's. This statue doesn't honor a person (Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson), or a war (World War II, Vietnam), or an ambiguous meme any red-blooded American can get excited about (freedom). Responsibility is what stern parents lecture their kids about after they break curfew, get loaded and crash the family car. Responsibility is watching "Born Into Brothels" when you really want to watch "Dude, Where's My Car?" If liberty's a candy bar, responsibility is broccoli. Who builds a statue with such dreary symbolic baggage? And how do they get paid for it?

"My wife keeps asking that question, too," says Bolz, 58.

His diverse background includes an MBA from the University of Phoenix, a stint teaching high school near Salt Lake, and a hand in marketing and sales at Monument Arts, a company that helps people who want to build monuments negotiate the pitfalls. Though Monument Arts isn't formally affiliated with the Statue of Responsibility and Bolz gets no money upfront, he will receive "a very low six-figure income" once start-up funds are raised.

Though he hasn't got a paycheck yet, Bolz remains committed. In e-mails signed "Onward & Upward," Bolz sent information about "Pennies for Freedom," a program through which schoolchildren can help fund the monument by bringing change to school. He can already visualize the final product.

"Fast-forward a few years," Bolz says. "The monument is up. It's starting to gain traction and acknowledgement. Think of the birth analogy . . . when ladies are giving birth. The idea conceived in Vienna by Viktor Frankl is given birth in Utah . . ."

For a moment, the Statue of Responsibility is real.

"It will live out its days," Bolz says, "wherever."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company