The Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle by Maya Lin is a sculpture within a 3.5-acre triangular urban park in the heart of Grand Rapids. Epitomizing urban enrichment, the project combined infrastructure renovation with an art piece. The park reinstates Monroe Street that was closed to traffic with the creation of a pedestrian mall in the late 1970s. But in the 1990s the city attempted to revitalize the downtown economy by renovating the mall and opening it to vehicle traffic. Maya Lin of New York City, designer of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., worked closely with city planners in redesigning the amphitheater as part of the completion of the Monroe Mall downtown.
The park has an amphitheater or enlarged circular seating area for some 1,500 people, grass mounds shaped to represent rapids on the Grand River, a tree-sheltered reflecting pool, and a misting fountain. The design portrays water in its solid, liquid, and vaporous states. The large oval amphitheater surrounded by concentric rings of steps and seats is transformed into an ice rink in winter. Beneath the rink's surface, 166 tiny fiber-optic lights shine at night depicting the millennial constellation of the sky over Grand Rapids on January 1, 2000.
As reported in the Grand Rapids Press (July 18, 1998), Lin said she wanted to “bring conceptually to the heart of Grand Rapids a park that refers back to the ‘rapids’ for which the city was named. Water becomes a metaphor for the design—like an undercurrent that flows throughout.” “Ecliptic” refers to the path the sun follows in the sky among the constellations over the course of a year. Lin envisioned the park as a counterpoint to Alexander Calder's stabile La Grande Vitesse (see KT1).
The Frey Foundation, Downtown Development Authority, the city, and private donors funded the Ecliptic and related park, street, and utility work.