This session was billed as one that would explore the “new normal” for public art by considering programs, events, partnerships, and policies required for sustaining vital, culturally rich communities.
Valerie Vadala Homer from Scottsdale, AZ, began by presenting the premise that traditional percent-for-art programs enabled by legislation passed by cities, counties, and states across the country in the 1960s and 80s may have become obsolete as cities approach “build out.” She presented alternatives of replacing permanent work affixed to construction with a model that focused on art events like “Glow” in Santa Monica and temporary installations that attracted audiences and enlivened the urban landscape.
Janet Echelman, best known for her ethereal “net sculptures,” showed an overview of her work, which has been funded by a variety of sources in many different kinds of locations. She spoke from an artist’s perspective about how she was adapting her work so that her dramatic installations could travel and be installed into pre-existing architectural settings.
Edward Uhlir, from Millennium Park in Chicago, showed us what can be accomplished when a city can summon astounding sums in private patronage to commission bold, daring art and architecture on a scale unprecedented in this country.
Finally, Janet Kagen gave us a tale of two cities; one was a successful project in Clinton, NC, the other was a project for the city of Durham that was aborted when it ran into opposition by other city powerbrokers. Durham then proceeded to legislate a public art ordinance so bureaucratically Byzantine that its failure was all but guaranteed. This experience caused Kagen to conclude that communities that don’t have ordinances should “stay that way.”
This session never really delivered on its premise of providing new forms, approaches, or partnerships for public art. Since the Medicis, the world has known what the rich can do for public art when they choose to be civic minded.
What strategies did Chicago use to assemble Millennium Park’s funding consortium and what are the strategies for sustaining the level of funding needed to maintain the park’s artwork into the future? How does Chicago’s experience translate to other cities that don’t have a similar corporate presence?
We applaud Scottsdale’s successful program for temporary installations, but the concept is hardly new. What strategies did Scottsdale use to leverage public/private funds to support their program? What new funding and presentation models have they developed that can be helpful to other communities?
And please, let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water when it comes to traditional civic percent for art programs. I would argue that the failure in Durham was not that they passed a public art ordinance. It’s that they (purposefully it would seem,) passed an ineffective one. Durham could have looked to the many effective legislative models used by other cities throughout the country.
The strength of percent-for-art programs is in how they can affect the built environment. This is what they were designed to do. The results have been that artists, supported by their collaborators in both government and the community, have used these legislative mandates to take art where no one had thought of taking it before, making an impact on every aspect of the civic landscape. To suggest that this could be sustained by private funding, or even voluntary ad hoc public funding, is wishful thinking.
It is precisely because these programs are mandated that artists and administrators have had the clout to insist on the inclusion of artists in every capital project, sometimes in radical new roles. While private donors might be found for high-visibility projects, it is the mandated programs that penetrate the city fabric and help ensure art equity for every neighborhood park, recreation center, fire station, branch library, and transit station.
Of course percent-for-art programs can’t and don’t do it all. How could they?
Programs for temporary installations, art events, community, and artist-initiated projects are all great ideas and expanded private funding can make them possible.
We are inspired to expand our reach and to find new ways and means for support, identify new allies, and forge new partnerships.
You will be able view many sessions from the 2012 Annual Convention via our Convention On-Demand service which will be available in about a month, but you can pre-order and preview several sessions on the site now.