Why Public Art Is Good for All Artists

Posted by Cathy Breslaw On April - 14 - 2011

Cathy Breslaw

As a contemporary visual artist working and living in San Diego county, I am always contemplating where and how my work can be exhibited.

Over the last several years I have had opportunities to be part of temporary public art exhibitions in downtown commercial buildings, private companies, restaurants, and the San Diego International Airport.

While these exhibits have provided good places to be seen in the area, I never really thought about these exhibitions as “public art.”

I pretty much took these shows for granted and in many ways, I may have been blinded by the traditional notions that “good art” should be seen in other venues like contemporary galleries, college and university galleries, museums, and hip nonprofit spaces.

I didn’t evaluate exhibition opportunities in the broadest sense and now that I have had time to reflect upon the past, I have learned some things.

One thing that has opened my eyes to the expansiveness of public art is the book I read called The Artists Guide to Public Art by Lynn Basa.  

Lynn defines public art as “art that is seen anywhere people aren’t planning to have an art experience – parks, plazas, and public buildings but also hospitals, hotels, restaurants, and office building lobbies and corridors.”

Not only are these places that art can be shown, but I think there is a consciousness-raising experience for the general public when they are in the presence of art.

Maybe it’s the do-gooder social worker person in me – another profession in my past – but I truly believe that art improves the quality of life for those who experience it – that it feeds the human soul and for this, I feel that being an artist is an important way of contributing to society.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel validated as an artist when asked to do a show in a museum or college or university gallery, and that can be seductive – and in its own way is very important too – but if we as artists want to give something meaningful to our local and global communities, we have to step out beyond the borders of the art world.

Of course the “pay off” often times for being given the honor of creating a public art project, can be money and notoriety. Secondarily and equally important, is that it can also improve the experience people have in their day to day lives.

I have lived in the San Diego area for over 15 years and know there is a plethora of good artists here. I also believe that given the broadest of definitions of public art, there are many places our art can be seen and appreciated.

Exhibiting our art in public venues can give San Diego residents and visitors a taste of our culture, our history and the rich diversity of beliefs and ideas and the spirit of the overall community.

One Response to “Why Public Art Is Good for All Artists”

  1. Cathy’s recent installation, Floating in Space, at San Diego International Airport was very well received. From my perspective, she makes some very valid points about exhibiting work in public places. And I particularly appreciate Lynn’s definition of public art being “art that is seen anywhere people aren’t planning to have an art experience – parks, plazas, and public buildings but also hospitals, hotels, restaurants, and office building lobbies and corridors.”

    If you would like to hear more on this topic, there will be two very important conferences convening in San Diego in June.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011, from 9:00 – 10:30 a.m., the Art in Airports workshop, http://events.aaae.org/sites/110601/agenda.cfm will present a panel focuesed on Airports as Cultural Venues.

    The following day, Wednesday, June 15, 2011, from 10:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m., the Public Art Preconference, will present a panel focused on Travelers as Cultural Audience.

    Both discussions will have various panelists discussing Airports as public spaces and the presentation of art and culture as opportunities to provide enhanced customer service and comfort.

    Join us for both discussions.

    Did you know that you could register for one day of the pre-conference? http://convention.artsusa.org/action/register.

    Constance Y. White

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