In the Public Art Network (PAN), we all share and discuss our favorite recipes for success, i.e. “best practices.” And to make a comparison to the art of baking a delectable cake (imagine your favorite style here), there should be no surprise when you go off the recipe or use a stale batch of ingredients that your cake will come out of the oven tasting like the mess you put in it.
Agree with me or not, but I am starting to think that the majority of the general public sees the value of public art in a comparable manner to that of a slice of cake. Some are truly in love, seeing public art like a treat to be consumed in celebration of all the shared experiences of our lives. Others just have no sweet tooth for public art, they may be under a strict diet, or worse they blame cake and/or art for the destruction of our children’s future-children.
Maybe public art isn’t particularly suited as an entrée or even a side dish, but is good being a dessert—the last and memorable item on the menu.
I have observed a trend emerging in best practices. Public art has shown how we as cake makers can produce more and better recipes; how we can enlist more cooks and serve more customers; but before we eat more, let’s ensure we are all healthy and hit the gym.
So, first we need to define our trouble spots that require the most work. Here are a few of my proposed exercises (best practices) for the field, just to get us going:
Exercise #1: Artist Selection Panels/Panel Formations.
This is a deceptively troublesome procedure, and surely the most common step undertaken by anyone involved in public art—our version of America’s Got Talent, minus the stylists.
Here in San Antonio, my staff and I organize and facilitate panels through administration of Public Art San Antonio, but I also sit on a few outside selection panels from time to time. When I get to be the panelist I pay close attention to the experience from that vantage point, making sure I’m tapping into the perspective that others likely have in regards to my own process.
My first inclination as a panelist is to analyze the makeup of the panel I’m on—asking silently—‘How come so-and-so is on this panel?’ or ‘What will such-and-such be most concerned about?’ It sounds awful of me to say I question my fellow panelists, but my rationalization is that this is a voice coming from the knowledge that stuff’s about to happen once this panel gets down to voting, and the resulting three years could be heaven or hell for the administrator, the artist, and everyone in their path.
So, my “get fit” tip for improving the panel process is to invest more time earlier in the process, focusing on educating panelists before any real action takes place.
Here’s a motivational mantra: ‘My project will realize the benefits of best practices because my selection panel has understood and valued them first.’
Exercise #2: Artist Selection Panels/Community Input
“Can I get witness?” Getting public input during the selection of artists phase is considered to be a “no-brainer” and a standard part of the public art process, but I find it very useful and recommend that you do use your brain during this process or things may go awry.
One of the problem areas that you may become aware of is that you find yourself on a selection panel that looks as if you’re in a meeting of the joint chiefs of art staffers assembled to select an artist for a community that lies far, far away—like 10 to 20 minutes from your conference room.
First, I’m not saying here anything that underestimates the importance of having great quality art professionals on panels (the more enlightened and experienced the better). However, as a former studio artist I have grown to understand that I once prescribed to a different set of ethical principles than I do now in my public art practice. While my aesthetics haven’t changed too much, my position has evolved based on situations and context that has shaped me due to my closeness to the public engagement process.
So, it’s important to think about whether your selection panels are made up of individuals that are primarily made up of those that know the particulars of what happens inside the walls of the artist’s studio, as well as the representation and first-hand knowledge that ensures the viability of the artist once he or she steps outside those walls and into the community.
Follow this exercise and you’ll stop burning all those empty calories, gathering and documenting excessive community input, after the damage has been done. Have a piece of cake instead.
Whoa, I can feel the burn! Time to hit the showers, but feel free to share your own exercise tips below!