Guerilla Tactics, Local Authenticity, and Socially Engaged Artists

Posted by Letitia Fernandez Ivins On June - 12 - 2012

The artist-initiated Victory Garden project outside of San Francisco City Hall in 2008 spurred a city-wide urban farming movement.

The Public Art Network and the Emerging Leaders Preconferences converged for their combined closing plenary session: “Multiple Meanings: The Expanding Role of Leadership in Creating Place” with Jason Schupbach (National Endowment for the Arts [NEA] Director of Design) and artist John Bela of Rebar in San Antonio on June 8.

The session sought first to explore the somewhat unsuspecting backgrounds of Jason, with a B.A. in Public Health and M.A. in Urban Planning, and John, whose education skipped from biochemistry to sculpture, performance, and landscape architecture, illustrating the benefits of their eclectic and complimentary experience to the arts field.

What does this reveal about the work of creative placemaking?

Because, in my unauthorized definition, creative placemaking is about cross-sector collaboration in which artists are a catalyst for public participation and community transformation. In order to infiltrate community, master planning processes, and policy, artists and arts professionals alike must speak the language of the architect, the planner, the social worker, the community activist, the health care provider, and the politician OR find internal allies so that we have support in the calculated risks that are intrinsic to making a social impact and to making art.

John’s formula for creative change: the Advocate, the Artist and the Guerilla Bureaucrat. For me, the latter offered the biggest conference take-away (the tantalizingly oxymoronic term also mentioned in a previous Public Art Network session). Read the rest of this entry »

Michael DeLong

Michael DeLong

With topics such as creative placemaking taking center stage in discussions around the arts, the question of how artists engage as citizens offers a dynamic opportunity for exploration.

On April 24, 2012, Emerging Arts Professionals/San Francisco Bay Area (EAP) convened a panel in San Francisco at Intersection for the Arts around the topic of artistic citizenship. Joining the panel were a healthy mix of artists, curators, teachers, architects, and administrators that included Julio Cesar Morales, Jennifer Parker, Randy Rollison, and Lizzie Wallack, with moderator Sanjit Sethi.

Born out of a series of discussions by EAP’s Public Programs fellowship, the event tackled a range of questions related to the role of the artist in the community.

You can listen to the audio recording (courtesy of Stacy Bond) below and read on for highlights:

Invoking the Public

The engaged crowd warmed up with small group discussions, covering a number of key inquiries. Creative problem-solving and knowledge-sharing featured among these sessions, although pointed questions also sparked healthy debate. Read the rest of this entry »

Multiple Interpretations & Approaches to Public Art Evaluation

Posted by Liesel Fenner On May - 18 - 2012

Liesel Fenner

A ‘lucky 13’ total number of public art blog posts were published this week from public art administrators, artists, designers, educators, and students.

Thank you to everyone in the Public Art Network (PAN) community for contributing and sharing the posts with your networks. Let us know your thoughts on the Blog Salon (you can view all 13 posts with this link) and future public art topics that you would like to see discussed through blog posts, webinars, and other information resources.

A cogent comment by Barbara Goldstein asked “does it work?” and emphatically stated, “It would be virtually impossible to measure whether one work of art has an economic impact in a specific place.” When public art administrators are asked for public art economic impact studies from elected officials, city commissions, and constituents it is incumbent on the public art program to look more deeply at how the artworks work within the larger urban and cultural context.

As Goldstein proposed, “questions that can be asked are more subtle—what makes a specific place memorable? Can you describe what you experience there and how it makes you feel? What do you think when you see a particular artwork? Does it improve your experience of this place?”

Studies are tackling the challenging approach of how to cull one’s personal experience of place, as Penny Balkin Bach introduced us to The Knight Foundation and Gallup Corporation’s Soul of the Community study that states, “community attachment creates an emotional connection to place.” The study determined that the key drivers of attachment are social offerings, openness, and the aesthetics of place—all attributes of public art. Read the rest of this entry »

Local Arts Index: How Many Artists are Working in Your County?

Posted by Randy Cohen On May - 18 - 2012
Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

This post is one in a series highlighting the Local Arts Index (LAI) by Americans for the Arts. The LAI provides a set of measures to help understand the breadth, depth, and character of the cultural life of a community. It provides county-level data about arts participation, funding, fiscal health, competitiveness, and more. Check out your county and compare it to any of the nation’s 3,143 counties at

Today we release Local Arts Index indicators #7 and #8 (out of 50).

Solo artists are the spark!

Independent artists are one of the most vivid pieces of evidence that the arts are thriving in a place. Solo artists, regardless of artistic medium or discipline, are very often both the fuel and the spark of a local arts scene. Many artists are also entrepreneurs, launching their work into the world through their own studios, performance spaces, and readings. Overall, we think of the presence of solo artists as a marker of the capacity of a community to deliver the arts.

The Census Bureau provides data on the number of “non-employer” businesses (a business with only a proprietor and no staff) for many industries, including some arts ones. This indicator measures the number of solo artists per 100,000 residents of a county.

Nationally, there were 678,000 of these “artist entrepreneurs” in 2009. While this is almost certainly an “undercount,” it is an interesting measure that can be tracked at a county level over time, so we include it in our national and local arts indexes.

In the typical county, 148 solo artist businesses can be found.  Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art Evaluation: An Ongoing Process

Posted by Alison Spain On May - 17 - 2012

"Wave Arbor" by Doug Hollis at Long Bridge Park in Arlington, VA.

(Author’s Note: This post builds upon prior pieces by Dr. Elizabeth Morton and Angela Adams.)

I enrolled in Dr. Morton’s Exploring Evaluation for Public Art studio as a way to complement my experience as a working artist-art educator with a limited sense of the planning and evaluation process for public art. Over the course of the studio I came to see evaluation not as a zero sum game meant to occur after installation, but rather as an ongoing series of assessments conducted by and for major stakeholders, including, but not limited to, the intended audience.

While public art evaluation clearly includes examining the perceptions of the general public, it must also examine the processes and decisions that influence, direct, and ultimately, commission, new works.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this studio was the opportunity for cross-disciplinary dialogue created by the intentional interface of urban planners, designers (in this case, architecture & landscape architecture students), artists, and arts administrators.

Each of these roles fulfills an important and different function in the life cycle of the public art project; yet all too often we work in isolation from one another and/or use language that is particular to one discipline and foreign to another. The studio proved to me that we have a great deal to learn from one another and that increased cross-disciplinary collaboration will continue to yield exciting new contributions to the field of public art evaluation.

For example, as a predominantly 2D artist moving into the more design-based role of the landscape architect, the concept of site analysis took on an expanded meaning. From a conventional fine arts perspective, a site is a location where an artwork is placed, not necessarily a place that an artwork might inhabit over time. Artists would clearly benefit from the designer’s perspective of understanding site as an ongoing process, with multiple actors; yet this is a concept that is rarely discussed in undergraduate or graduate level art programs. Read the rest of this entry »

Artists Evaluating Our Own Public Art

Posted by Lajos Heder On May - 17 - 2012

Lajos Heder

Evaluation is a different issue for artists creating commissioned work than for administrators running a public art program.

In my view, the administrator needs positive public feedback to politically (and financially) support the program. As artists we need feedback that help us become better artists.

It is much easier to imagine an evaluation of a whole program than to measure the value of a single artwork.

As artists we are all somewhat eccentric in our art making process. We combine research and rational thought with personal intuitions and observations in our own unique ways. We invent things that have not existed before.

Members of the public, who have not seen anything exactly like it before may love it or hate it at first sight. They may adapt to love it, or get bored over time. People who say they love the art, may never pay much attention after the first look. Others who are uncomfortable may eventually come around and gain something important.

My experience is that a large percentage of people pay very little attention to public art. Read the rest of this entry »

Collaboration Improves Local Arts Agency’s Public Art Program

Posted by Angela Adams On May - 16 - 2012

Angela Adams

Arlington County’s public art program benefited greatly from our collaborative effort with Virginia Tech and Americans for the Arts mentioned in Dr. Elizabeth Morton’s post from earlier this week.

Like many programs across the country, we are adjusting to the new normal of increased scrutiny of public spending as it relates to the arts. We are also adjusting to our recent relocation from the Department of Parks and Recreation to that of Arlington Economic Development and are just beginning to understand the difference in priorities between the two agencies and how these will impact our future work.

We are currently working on developing a white paper on the value of public art to Arlington through four lenses: community and social benefits; civic design and placemaking; economic; and aesthetic/experiential.

It is helpful that the field of economics has begun to look seriously at developing measurement tools for such intangible phenomena as human happiness or fulfillment as well as the intrinsic value of the arts, so there is an increasing body of literature to draw from here. The findings of the Virginia Tech students will similarly help us in making the case for how and why public art adds value to our community.

To summarize some of the more interesting (even surprising) findings of the four teams discussed in the previous post and their value to Arlington’s public art program: Read the rest of this entry »

Taking the Art World Approach: Evaluating Public Art as an Investment

Posted by Brandi Reddick On May - 16 - 2012

Brandi Reddick

The idea of art as an investment is by no means a new concept. Art collectors jet set to major fairs in Hong Kong, Basel, and Sao Paulo hoping to secure their next big investment purchase; gallery owners and curators are constantly on the scout to discover the “next big artist”; and auction houses are drawing in record sales for artworks.

As administrators of public art, it is vital that we take some clues from the art world and evaluate public art as an investment for our community and start scouting for that “next big artist” who lives and works in our community.

The unique nature of public art inherently makes it one of the most valuable and exponentially increasing public assets for a community. I have the great fortune of working for Miami-Dade County Art in Public Places (MDAPP), which boasts a collection of nearly 700 works of public art.

Throughout its 40-year history, the program has commissioned some of the most significant contemporary artists in the world to create one of a kind, site-specific works of art. As with most works of public art, the commissioning cost of these works only reflects a percentage of their current value.

For example, in 1985 artist Edward Ruscha was commissioned by the Miami-Dade County Art in Public Places Trust to create “Words Without Thoughts Never to Heaven Go”, a site-specific installation for the Main Library consisting of eight 16-foot-long panels mounted around the lobby’s rotunda. The work was commissioned for approximately $300,000. Read the rest of this entry »

Interconnectedness is the Key to Understanding Public Art

Posted by Christina Lanzl On May - 15 - 2012

Christina Lanzl

Many of us will readily name a favorite work of art in a treasured public place, a priceless cultural asset. Similarly, we can probably point to the destruction of such works by neglect, human or institutional failure, war, or extreme events. To put a finger on why certain outdoor works of art are so important or to provide a clear value can already be more challenging.

If anything, one can point to the unique, irreplaceable quality of the treasured cultural asset. If anything, the qualifier ‘priceless’ may be the only accurate valuation of something that is of high quality and unique. Because public art programs and cultural planners have been asking for such a tool kit, the Public Art Network at Americans for the Arts is currently developing a framework for public art evaluation

While public art programs create permanent public art in partnership with contemporary artists, these works immediately begin their art historic trajectory once installation is complete, beginning with a short and long-term maintenance plan. Thus, collection management evaluation criteria for public art can serve as a point of departure and should be coordinated in partnership with existing preservation initiatives. At the national level, heritage preservation institutions like Save Outdoor Sculpture take on advocacy and protection roles in the U.S., joined by local and state historic preservation organizations.

Once the approach has been determined, the process needs to zero in on the types of questions and figures that not only quantify, but also qualify the value of public art. Evaluation of public art projects and programs is a difficult task, particularly so if the researcher considers them within the framework of the cultural or urban context. Read the rest of this entry »

Planting a Seed About Evaluation

Posted by Sioux Trujillo On May - 15 - 2012

Sioux Trujillo

I recently resigned from a public art program in Detroit that was housed inside a small arts college. During my time there, evaluation became a big part of my job. It was critical to track, define, and report for the future of the program to serve as a baseline for success for the arts institution. Before this, my idea of success was primarily based from the perspective of the studio artist.

The projects that were created in the neighborhoods of Detroit were much more complex because each project was so very different from one another, involved different people from diverse backgrounds, and had community defined goals and artist selection.

When I set out to create a plan of evaluation I realized this was going to be a complex task.

My first obstacle was simply trying to figure out what to call the projects. A seemingly simple thing turned into more than I expected.

I started to compile a list of all the different names that artists and organizations are using to define public art which involves the people around the project in some way.

•    Social Aesthetics
•    Relational Aesthetics
•    Social Justice Art
•    Community Art
•    Placemaking
•    Social Sculpture
•    New Genre Public Art
•    Tactical Media
•    Cultural Activism
•    Social Practice
•    Interventions
•    Happenings
•    Participatory Art Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring Evaluation for Public Art: Arlington County as Laboratory

Posted by Dr. Elizabeth Morton On May - 14 - 2012
Dr. Elizabeth Morton

Dr. Elizabeth Morton

This course had its origins in a graduate assignment I had back in the early 1990s. My intimidating professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design provided only two requirements for our final paper: 1) that it be “interesting to him” and 2) that it be no longer than three pages.

I was relieved that he approved my topic of “how do local public art agencies evaluate their projects,” but was concerned about the page limitations. I needn’t have worried, since after reviewing as many of the agencies as I could in the pre-internet era, I did not find much.

At a presentation on public art in Arlington, VA, nearly 20 years later, a question from the audience made me think about my project again. I imagined that as the public art field had matured, surely there had been efforts to institutionalize some evaluative practices, but when I started making inquiries I realized that this was still a relatively unexplored topic.

Since Angela Adams and Liesel Fenner had both been kind enough to speak in my urban design policy class over the years, I approached them with the idea of conducting a graduate studio that would try to take on this topic. It’s a great testament to their openness to inquiry and commitment to the field that they very actively participated in the studio and contributed many hours and many insights.

Recognizing the complexity of the topic and the limitations of the three-month semester, and not having any idea about what we would find, we titled the course, “Exploring Evaluation for Public Art: Arlington County as Laboratory.”

Our 12 students hailed from five different countries and from three different programs (planning, architecture, and landscape architecture). To my delight, two of them were practicing public artists! Read the rest of this entry »

The Question We Should Be Asking is “Does it Work?”

Posted by Barbara Goldstein On May - 14 - 2012

Barbara Goldstein

In an era dominated by Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and Yelp!, where we are constantly invited to hit the “like” button and share our reviews, it’s tempting to wade into evaluating public art without asking the question “why?” After all, anyone can should have a valid opinion of anything that lives in the public realm, right?

I’ve always felt that anyone who experiences public art or architecture should have the ability to judge its success. The question we should ask is not really “like” or “not like,” though. The question we should ask is “does it work?”

As someone who plans and commissions public art, I feel it’s my responsibility to engage community members in the work we do—before, during and after art has been installed. After all, the difference between public art and art created in the studio is that the end user will live with it for a long time and we can’t easily move it into storage. If we actually involve our communities in the public art process, we will automatically develop the tools for them to evaluate it.

The first question we need to ask is “What are we trying to learn?”

For many years now, policymakers and implementers have asked whether the economic value of public art can be quantified. This is the wrong question.

It would be virtually impossible to measure whether one work of art has an economic impact in a specific place. The questions that can be asked are more subtle—what makes a specific place memorable? Can you describe what you experience there and how it makes you feel? What do you think when you see a particular artwork? Does it improve your experience of this place? Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art Evaluation RFP: Request For (Your) Participation

Posted by Liesel Fenner On May - 14 - 2012

Liesel Fenner

Americans for the Arts programs Blog Salons to focus attention on a particular arts topic to generate discussion through online responses: comments, follow-up posts, Tweets, Facebook comments, etc.

While many of us find it challenging to keep up with daily email, much less blogs and our social media accounts, there are a few questions we repeatedly see posted on the Public Art Network (PAN) listserv:

“Does anyone have a sample public art evaluation report?” or “Are there are any public art and economic impact studies?”

After the question is asked the listserv goes silent, no one replies.

The goal of our Blog Salon this week is to turn up the volume and encourage as many contributions of ideas on how the field (PAN, you, me, we) can approach public art evaluation.

We have invited a variety of public art professionals—both administrators and artists—to participate in the Salon with their ideas on how we measure public art programs, projects, or both.

We will hear from arts leaders who are experimenting with ideas on how to measure an art form that is elusive to traditional measurement tools. Artwork that resides in public space.

How do count audience viewers?

Are they actually viewers when passers-by may or may not even notice the work?

Should we approach the general public and measure their reaction to the work? Read the rest of this entry »

How Art Can Strengthen Evaluation

Posted by Renan Snowden On May - 4 - 2012

Renan Snowden

Let’s be honest: sometimes evaluation can feel like taking medicine. What’s more, the results of evaluation often take the form of dry reports that are unwelcoming and, at worst, hard to penetrate. But evaluation doesn’t have to be this way.

Evaluation can be a useful and engaging process that incorporates creativity and participation to help an organization learn how it can more effectively reach its goals. Evaluation presents an opportunity for arts organizations to demonstrate the impact they are making in their communities. Incorporating artistic practice and a combination of narrative documentation and compelling graphics can make evaluation interesting and build off of an arts organization’s existing skill set.

Artists and arts organizations have an advantage with evaluation: you want it to be a creative process. Right now, some arts organizations are taking the lead in including drawing, storytelling, and graphic design as part of their evaluation process and reporting.

By making evaluation a creative and dynamic process, these organizations are helping make assessment more attractive to practitioners by showing that evaluation can build off the work your organization already has expertise in.

As a graduate student in urban planning, I’m interested in ways that the arts can help create shared spaces for community development. Writing short summaries of the in-depth resources available on the Animating Democracy website as the spring IMPACT intern, I began to notice that some of the best case studies of measuring the impact of social change incorporated the arts as part of the evaluation process. These innovative approaches to evaluation are facilitating new ways of evaluation that emphasize experience and engagement as key components of evaluation. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Beertown’ — Making a Show That Builds Community

Posted by Rachel Grossman On May - 3 - 2012

The official "Beertown" time capsule.

In September 2010, dog & pony dc (d&pdc) began developing a new show starting with nothing but two books and a question. Our goal was to create an original work as a collective from start to finish; the only thing we knew about the end product was that it would be fully produced 14 months later. Well: we also knew that in this production we wanted to push the boundaries of “audience integration.”

d&pdc is an ensemble-based devised theatre company that creates new ways for audiences to experience theatre. We carry a self-described “healthy obsession” with defining the performer-audience relationship for each show.

“Audience integration” is a foundation of d&pdc’s devising process; the audience’s role in performance is discussed from each project’s birth to its fully-realized production. The approach is highly elastic. On one end of the spectrum: the role of the audience is as witness. At the opposite end: the event doesn’t move forward without audience propulsion.

In 2010, we wanted to explore the more risky end. We wanted to create a show in which the audience members were active, vocal participants who ultimately determined the outcome every night. To do that, the audience had to feel compelled to act; they had to become invested and take ownership. In other words: they had to care.

What makes us care? “A crisis” was our initial answer. Read the rest of this entry »