Sharks In The Park Bows Out: Popular Display To Be Replaced After Next Summer

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Sharks , Chatham Merchants Association

From this year's Sharks in the Park display. Next summer will be the last for the artistically decorated sharks, which will be replaced by a different display in the summer of 2019. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – While it's clear that the sharks that patrol the waters along the Cape's shore are here to stay – seasonally, at least – the sharks that visit Kate Gould Park every summer will not return after one more season.

The popular Sharks in the Park art display, sponsored by the Chatham Merchants Association, will be held for the last time next May. In 2019 and beyond, the exhibit will continue, but instead of art in the shape of sharks, there will be a different Chatham-related theme.

Merchants President Rebecca Voelkel said while ideas for those future exhibits have been discussed, “we are keeping that top secret.”

The change is an effort to keep the exhibit fresh and extend its life, said Voelkel. “It's not that we're going to stop doing the event in general,” she said. “We don't want people to get bored.” The overall intent remains the same, however: to provide an outdoor art exhibit that draws attention to downtown Chatham, promotes local businesses and organizations and gives local artists a way to show what they can do.

“Every year the sharks get better and better,” Voelkel noted regarding the quality of the shark art created by dozens of local artists.

Indeed, artists and local organizations and businesses that sponsor the displays have created art that ranges from local scenes painted on the shark-shaped Versatex – a wood-like composite provided by Hinckley's Home Center and cut by Stello Construction – to interactive displays, mosaics, collages and three-dimensional representations of great whites.

The Merchants Association wants to end Sharks in the Park “on a high note,” Voelkel said, to make sure we're maximizing what the event is both for artists and the CMA.”

Along with drawing thousands of spectators, Sharks in the Park raised money for the CMA's annual events and activities, such as Christmas by the Sea and Oktoberfest, as well as a scholarship fund. In 2013, the first year of the exhibit, the sharks were auctioned at a gala event which raised $70,000 to help establish the Chatham Shark Center. The exhibit skipped 2014 but returned in 2015. For the past three years, the sharks have been auctioned online, with half the money going to the CMA and half to the artists. This year's auction yielded the highest total ever, with the 56 sharks raising more than $62,000; the three-year total was close to $155,000.

The exhibit has also had problems with theft. Last year several sharks were stolen, and one was never recovered. This past summer, despite increased video surveillance, there were several attempted thefts and one shark was never found. Increased lighting, signs and additional video monitors toward the end of the summer put an end to the shenanigans, with organizers Janice Rogers and Jerry Evans keeping a close eye on things through remote monitors and smartphone apps.

As in the past four years, Sharks in the Park will begin prior to Memorial Day in Kate Gould Park. Usually the exhibit moves to the front lawn of the Eldredge Public Library the week before July 4 – the park gets too crowded during band concerts to safely display the art – but that is likely to change next summer if plans to renovate the library lawn come to fruition. Voelkel said the CMA anticipated that the library work would be done in 2019 and so expected to use the location one last time.

“We're still working through those details,” she said regarding next year's display location.

There have been variations in the Sharks in the Park exhibit. A few years ago the sharks were accompanied by five decorated fishing boats and a lighthouse. Voelkel wouldn't say if similar shapes are being considered after the sharks end their run, only that it will be “something people will appreciate.”

“We really haven't finalized it,” she added. “We're viewing this as a very positive and exciting change to the event.”