Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quality Public Art

Working with Public Art Committees and distributing Public Arts Funds I find that a community can derive a great benefit from the art in public spaces; starting with the selection process. When I engage with a community I find myself asking people to explore what they think, know, believe and expect about art and their environment. Discussions about community, the purpose of objects, beauty, and collaboration often evolve from these conversations. Usually much deliberation goes into selecting a piece of public work, and much collateral good is created by that deliberation.

Sometimes it seems like the process provides a greater benefit than the artwork itself. This is in no way an endorsement of banal public art; or to suggest the selection process can redeem a community eyesore that either gets removed in five years or remains as a permanent cautionary symbol for bad cultural engineering. What I am getting at is that public artwork is very good at starting conversations about a myriad of topics, even when the artwork is a target of critical ire. A central value in art comes from the thought it stimulates, and if a person does not want to be thinking then the benefits are greatly diminished. Thinking and discussion can be encouraged in a committee setting, but in the public realm it may or may not get off the ground.

I am at a loss on the means to create a dramatic upsurge in civic contemplation and societal intellectualism around aesthetics. However, I believe that the more interesting a piece of artwork is the more interesting the conversation can be. This suggests that if one cannot better a conversation (internal or external) by improving the participants, one can better a conversation through improvement of the conversation object. Otherwise stated, really good art promotes interesting thoughts and conversations.

My quandary is then how to ensure the commissioning of exceptionally good public artwork.
I have never found a committee that intentionally wished to commission unpopular, uninspired artwork that would be derided. Lack of thoughtful deliberation by committees also does not seem to be at fault. So I would welcome suggestions on this blog about where others think the process fails or how it can better succeed.

If you want to think more about this here is a link to video transcripts of the Public Art 360 conference which was held in Chapel Hill NC. 11-12 April 2008.

The video links are not readily apparent, but they are there.

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