If he wasn't so already, Roger Ebert is now literally a permanent fixture at the Virginia Theater with the unveiling of his statue this afternoon.
With the sun peering from behind the clouds and Vivaldi's "Allegro Non Multo" playing in the background, the ceremony at the 16th annual Ebertfest was brief, but meaningful to the two hundred people in attendance.
As Scott Anderson, the de facto emcee of the event noted, everyone around this sculpture has -- "in one way or another" -- been affected by Ebert's grace, kindness and profundity, both in film criticism and life itself.
Chief among those touched and moved by Roger was Donna Anderson, the travel agent for the festival since its inception in 1997. In a speech that preceded the revealing of the statue, Anderson talked about being ill, lying in a Northwestern hospital bed in need of a heart transplant. Upon awakening one morning she had an epiphany: Roger had done so much for Champaign-Urbana and his alma mater at the University of Illinois, that something had to be made in his honor.
This was an idea she proposed a few years prior, but unfortunately made no progress on. But in a time where her life hung in the balance of uncertainty, she reached out to vaunted sculptor Rick Carney and asked him to take this project on. At the time, Carney had been retired and was not accepting any work. However Carney, like so many of us, had a connection to Roger. He and his autistic son bonded through their shared passion for movies, and by extension, Roger's reviews of those movies.
This is what Roger Ebert did. He connected with people on a personal level that eschewed superficiality, speaking from the heart with unmatchable honesty, empathy and lucidity. That is why Ebertfest is continuing today and for many more days to come. More importantly, that is why a whole host of people gathered around to watch the unveiling of this beautiful piece of art.
And yes, Roger, despite your reservations about having a statue of yourself built, it is indeed art.