Arts and Culture: Essential for Transition in the Kentucky Coalfields

Posted by Mark Kidd On February - 21 - 2014
Mark Kidd

Mark Kidd

Ada Smith

Ada Smith

January marked the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, President Johnson’s initiative that charged America’s institutions to create “maximum feasible participation” for those most affected by lack of opportunity. This focused effort made a lasting difference on living standards in Appalachia – but poverty, high unemployment, and shortened lifespans outlasted the war. During the last 18 months, Eastern Kentucky lost 6,000 coal mining jobs, often the highest paying career available in our region, leaving coal employment at its lowest levels since record keeping began in the 1920s.

Eastern Kentucky has 20 counties which are federally-designated as distressed, more than twice the number of any other state in Appalachia. Distressed counties have a three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and poverty rate that fall within the bottom ten percent of the nation. On a recent winter weekday in Pikeville, Kentucky, almost 1,700 people traveled from mountain counties throughout Eastern Kentucky to participate in a day-long summit named “SOAR” — Shaping Our Appalachian Region. State and federal political leaders solicited ideas for a new regional planning process, which produced 600 written ideas about how to make positive change. We could not ask for a more encouraging sign that the local will exists to sustain our communities regardless of persistent, grinding economic distress.

Our region’s arts and culture sector is poised to make contributions to the civic, social, and economic transitions that are necessary for the future. Local partnerships that incorporate artists, arts organizations, social services, civic organizations, and the public have proven themselves a potent way to help a broad cross-section of community members take on complex projects here, including economic development. With this kind of infrastructure in place, communities can identify local issues and develop creative, ongoing solutions. Read the rest of this entry »

From the Seats of Power in Brisbane City Hall

Posted by Beth Grossman On December - 6 - 2013
Beth Grossman

Beth Grossman

In the small town of Brisbane, California, just outside of San Francisco, I was invited to create a special art exhibit in honor of the opening of our new City Hall. This provided an important opportunity to welcome Brisbane citizens into City Hall, to engage the public in a dialog about social commitment and encourage their involvement in local politics. After years of building relationships with Brisbane City officials as a local community environmental activist and arts champion, I wondered how far Brisbane City officials would go to support the arts and encourage public participation.

“The chairs have heard it all,” I thought as I endured interminable meetings at City Hall. In keeping with my artistic practice of creating site-specific work, I wondered what the view might be like from the City Hall conference room chairs’ perspective. It is in this very conference room that we speak our minds, fight for what we are passionate about, work together and laugh together. I decided to convince our Mayor and the entire City Council, Police Commander, Fire Chief and Harbormaster to immortalize their derrieres as “Seats of Power,” all in the name of Art.

In order to photographically capture the impression of City officials’ pants sitting on their chairs, I asked them hold a piece of plexi-glass firmly against their derrières. “Bend over, this won’t hurt a bit.” And from that position I chatted with them about their passions for being involved in City affairs.

I came to appreciate Brisbane officials from a perspective different from that of the Council Chambers or City Hall offices. The posterior photo images were later woven into textiles and upholstered onto chair seats. Read the rest of this entry »

Can Public Art Play a Role in Public Health?

Posted by Sara Ansell On September - 23 - 2013
Sara Ansell

Sara Ansell

What is the Porch Light Program?

Does art have the power to heal? The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program thinks it does. Through the Mural Arts Porch Light Program, a partnership with the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), we mine the social power of art to not only address a community’s physical environment but ultimately the community’s health. The program strives to catalyze positive changes in the community, improve the physical environment, create opportunities for social connectedness, develop skills to enhance resilience and recovery, promote community and social inclusion, shed light on challenges faced by those with behavioral health issues, reduce stigma, and encourage empathy. Through participatory public art, we have tackled issues such as trauma, faith and spirituality, homelessness, immigration, war, and community violence.

The Porch Light Program builds a team of artists, service providers, program participants, and other community and city-wide stakeholders to collaborate on a transformative public art project over the course of a year. During that year, artists are embedded within a provider agency and work closely with service recipients, staff, and the surrounding community. Through the weekly workshops, community meetings, and Open Studios, the artists forge meaningful relationships and explore the issues most pressing to the community. After months of dialogue, brainstorming, and art activities, the artists delve into the mural creation process with program participants. The participants help design the mural and then move on to the most exciting phase of the work: painting the mural. At the end of a program year, we celebrate and honor the completed mural at a highly anticipated “Mural Dedication Ceremony.”

Through this collaborative creative process, individuals and communities are not simply beneficiaries of public art or recipients of treatment, but co-creators of the work as they learn new skills, gain knowledge among peers and community members, and play an active role in improving their physical environment. National foundations, health leaders from across the country, and universities are looking at the Porch Light Program closely as an example of progressive public health promotion: the consideration that our physical and social ecosystem impacts our health as much as a visit to the doctor. Read the rest of this entry »

The Human Experience of Our Creative Community

Posted by Lori McKinney-Blankenship On July - 25 - 2013
Lori McKinney-Blankenship

Lori McKinney-Blankenship

I am sitting in The Room Upstairs, our living room style theatre, cross legged on a comfortable couch. To my right, my good friend Tiffany is sculpting an octopus out of polymer clay and giggling with her brilliant musician boyfriend Jordan; he just came off the stage after an intense improvisational jam. On stage now is resident artist Maggie playing folk songs on her guitar. Behind her is a beautiful space scene projected on the screen, mixed with video clips of the ocean. It’s beautiful.

To my left is Bobby, a man from the neighborhood who we first met as he collected cans to recycle. He absolutely loves it here. He has a special chair in the back; it’s a soft cushy seat, and he kicks back, totally engaged from the time the music kicks in until it finishes at the end of the night. We gather that there isn’t much more in life that is available for him; he spends a good bit of time pushing a shopping cart around. Everyone here welcomes him with open arms. In the front row is an autistic lady who rocks hard back and forth to the music and comes with her caretaker, a musician, every week. There are high school kids, college kids, a couple of grandparents, lots of 20- & 30-somethings, and a three-legged black dog. Read the rest of this entry »

Placemarking: Public Art and Emergency Preparedness

Posted by Lindsay Sheridan On July - 19 - 2013
lindsay headshot

Lindsay Sheridan

Doug Kornfeld knew he won the gig the moment someone mentioned Mardi Gras. He had just presented to the jury for New Orleans’ public art City-Assisted Evacuation marking project – dubbed “Evacuspots” – with his proposal for 14-foot-high, 850 lb stainless steel stick figures with one arm reached out in the universal sign for “I need a ride!” But what Doug, an artist based in Boston, MA, hadn’t counted on was that his design would have a perfectly iconic Big Easy connection: that of someone gesturing to have beads thrown at them on Mardi Gras.

This festive figure has a serious task, though. It’s part of a new solution for hurricane evacuation developed by the nonprofit philanthropy organization Evacuteer.org in the wake of the 2005 disaster Hurricane Katrina, which left more than 100,000 residents stranded in the city with no means of escape. Through an agreement with the City of New Orleans, Evacuteer.org recruits, trains, and manages evacuation volunteers – dubbed evacuteers – to run a system that is capable of picking up and transporting 30,000 residents to state-run shelters in the event of a necessary evacuation. The system was tested once in September 2008 in advance of Hurricane Gustav. While about 18,000 residents utilized the City-Assisted Evacuation Plan, many residents had little idea of where the pickup points were since they were marked by small, unnoticeable placards with a lot of text. So Robert Fogarty, co-founder and board president of Evacuteer.org, brought up a new idea: what better way to draw attention to the spots than with a public art piece? Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art Projects from Concecption to Installation

Posted by Nadine Wasserman On June - 15 - 2013
Nadine Wasserman

Nadine Wasserman

As part of the Annual 2013 Americans for the Arts National Conference, the Public Art Network (PAN) Preconference, presents the opportunity for public art professionals to explore all aspects of their field from invigorating communities to behind-the-scenes negotiations such as planning, fund raising, and working collaboratively with artists, architects, engineers, fabricators, city planners, and so on.

Like any worthwhile artistic production, good public art requires delicate negotiations, collaborations, and most importantly flexibility and adaptability. One of the many panels at PAN this year took a look at how the end result can often be very different from the initial prospectus. The panel, titled “Between the Lip and the Cup: How Projects Change from Initial Process to Final Installation,” was made up of four different professionals: Cath Brunner, Director, Public Art 4Culture, Seattle, WA; Stacy Levy, artist, Sere, Ltd., Spring Mills, PA; Natalie Plecity, Landscape Architect, Pittsburgh, PA; and Janet Zweig, artist, Brooklyn, NY.

The panel used examples to demonstrate how changes and unpredictable circumstances are inevitable at all phases of a project but they can be successfully managed in order to create the “best” outcomes for all stakeholders.
Ms. Zweig talked about two of her projects. One was for Maplewood, a neighborhood in St. Louis.  Her first proposal to create a digital sign proved cost prohibitive so she revised her plan. In the end her signs were made of recycled materials taken from bungalows that were scheduled for demolition in the neighborhood. One of the signs was intentionally installed backwards so that drivers passing by could read it in their rearview mirrors. Serendipitously, it was this aspect of the project that created a buzz and got the neighborhood the recognition it was seeking. Read the rest of this entry »

Year in Review, Public Art Network preconference

Posted by Nadine Wasserman On June - 14 - 2013

Nadine Wasserman

Nadine Wasserman

Each year as a highlight of the Public Art Network’s preconference, a panel of jurors presents its selection of exemplary public art projects from the previous year. The 2013 Year in Review jurors were Justine Topfer, Curator, Out of the Box Projects & Project Manager, San Francisco Arts Commission, CA; Norie Sato, Artist, Seattle, WA; and John Carson, Artist and Head of the School of Art, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.From 350 submissions they selected 50 that were completed in 2012.

Since 2000, PAN’s Year in Review uses an open call submission process from which the panel selects up to 50 projects that represent the most compelling works from across the country. This year’s jury prefaced their presentation by explaining that although they had different points of view they agreed on all of the choices and were careful to recuse themselves during the deliberations from those projects where there had conflicts of interest.

In their introduction, the panel explained that this year they noticed an increased number of projects using light and technology, an interesting trend towards multiple or groups of artists working on one project, and the use of different funding sources with an increase in the number of projects initiated and funded by private developers. They also noted that there were fewer land-based projects and that in general it seems that the field is getting broader. Read the rest of this entry »

New Cabinet Nominees Have Pro-Arts Records

Posted by Robert Lynch On June - 10 - 2013
Robert L. Lynch

Robert L. Lynch

Just a few weeks ago, President Obama nominated two talented and accomplished individuals to lead the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. Transportation Department. Penny Pritzker of Chicago and Mayor Anthony Foxx of Charlotte were nominated to serve as Secretaries of Commerce and Transportation, respectively. I’m pleased to say that both have impressive connections to the arts and arts policy and this is encouraging because their agencies have been important to supporting the non-profit arts sector.

Americans for the Arts is working with both agencies to further an arts agenda. For example, I serve on the U.S. Travel & Tourism Advisory Board, which reports to the Commerce Secretary, on strategies to further our national, and international, travel and tourism sectors. The arts and culture are a major reason for tourists to visit the United States and through the Board’s advocacy subcommittee, which I lead, we are working on recommendations to strengthen the ease of travel; the security of our visa system; the support for our institutions, venues, and events; and the visitor experience. From a business sector perspective, our Arts & Economic Impact IV study shows that the nonprofit arts have a $135 billion a year economic impact, support 4.1 million jobs, and return almost $10 billion a year in revenue to the federal Treasury. The Commerce Department has many programs that our arts leaders and creative industries are pursuing and utilizing to support their businesses. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art and the Military

Posted by Ann Wykell On May - 17 - 2013
Ann Wykell

Ann Wykell

As art consultant to The Patterson Foundation (TPF) in Sarasota, FL, I manage the commissions of public art for the assembly space in Sarasota National Cemetery.  The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), National Cemetery Administration, builds and administers 131 national cemeteries in the US. TPF an endowed charitable foundation and is fully funding the design and construction of the ceremonial amphitheater called Patriot Plaza, as a gift to the VA to honor the military ties of the family whose fortune endowed the Foundation. The theme of Patriot Plaza is Honor Veterans, Inspire Patriotism, and Embrace Freedom.

To select artists we followed best-practices for public art process, as defined by the Public Art Network of Americans for the Arts. However working within a military space has implications that are not typically encountered when placing art in public spaces. It is impossible to make meaningful art about the military without encountering the historical, political, art-historical and personal context. Typical questions for a public art project took on nuances and complexities: Who is our audience? What is this space used for? A national cemetery is a place where active duty military killed in the line of duty are buried, and where men and women whose honorable service took place decades earlier choose to be interred. It also provides burial space for eligible family members of veterans. Read the rest of this entry »

Jaeson Parsons

Jaeson Parsons

The cultural chasm separating the civilian and the warfighter has never been wider. Most of the conflicts in 20th Century American history have relied on conscription, better known as the draft, to fill the ranks of our armed forces. The Global War on Terror of the 21st Century has been and continues to be fought by an all-volunteer force and because of this, the gap continues to grow as more and more professional soldiers shoulder the weight of a decade of conflict.

The typical soldier joins the military right out of high school, most have never lived outside of the town they grew up in and even fewer have visited another country. These men and women are just out of childhood when they join the military and many of them have fired a weapon in combat multiple times before their first drink in a bar at age 21. The military culture is all they know of adult life and once they are separated from this family of sorts, the civilian world is as alien to them as the sands of Iraq were when their boots first hit the ground. After multiple years in combat, witnessing man’s inhumanity to man, they are forever changed and trying to relate to their generational civilian counterparts is almost mission impossible. This is the divide, the cultural gap that separates those who have witnessed the horrors of combat firsthand and those who have simply watched the events unfold on CNN. We, as a nation, must construct a bridge over this divide to bring together this fractured generation and not let yet another war separate so many of our military heroes from their civilian brothers and sisters. Art, in its many forms, can be that bridge we so desperately need and art is what inspired our project, the Graffiti of War, which aims to bridge the divide and join our nation together like never before. Read the rest of this entry »

Reduce Crime & SCURVY in Your Town – Grow Public Fruit!

Posted by Janet Owen Driggs On April - 19 - 2013
Janet Owen Driggs

Janet Owen Driggs

My headline was intended to be something of an eye-catcher—who can resist a story about crime and scurvy, right?

Best of all, my claim is true. The thinking goes something like this:

  • Scurvy, the clinical manifestation of vitamin C deficiency, is on the rise in developed nations. In the United Kingdom, for example, reported cases of childhood scurvy rose 57% between 2005–2008.
  • Public health studies indicate that poverty is driving the re-emergence of the disease.
  • Access to free, fresh, vitamin-c rich foods will reduce incidents of scurvy.

Ergo: planting fruit trees and vegetables in public spaces will reduce scurvy.

And what about crime, I hear you ask? Well, since 2008, a project in Todmorden, UK, has been growing fruits and vegetables in seventy public beds dotted around the town.

The produce is free to whoever chooses to pick it, and, as Incredible Edible co-founder Pam Warhurst explains: “The police have told us that, year on year, there has been a reduction in vandalism since we started.” She continues: “If you take a grass verge that was used as a litter bin and a dog toilet and turn it into a place full of herbs and fruit trees, people won’t vandalise it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Assessing Cultural Infrastructure

Posted by G. Martin Moeller, Jr. & Scott Kratz On April - 2 - 2013
Scott Kratz

Scott Kratz

Most of the world’s great cultural capitals emerged organically through a virtuous cycle in which creative people flocked to prosperous cities, where they helped to create or expand prominent cultural institutions, which in turn attracted more creative people, and so on.

During the modern era, however, the historically strong correlation between economic vitality and cultural resources diminished somewhat. In some cases, new centers of economic activity developed with unprecedented speed, making it difficult for cultural institutions—which tend to have long gestation periods—to keep up. In the U.S. in particular, the migration of substantial wealth to the suburbs often left venerable urban institutions impoverished, while depriving nascent cultural organizations of the critical mass necessary for success.

The past couple of decades have been marked by a revival of interest in cultural infrastructure and a growing belief that museums, performing arts centers, libraries, programmed civic spaces and other cultural facilities can themselves foster social and economic progress.

The poster child of this trend is the Guggenheim Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry, which has been credited with the revival of a small, rather run-down industrial city in Spain. Careful analysis of economic and other data suggests that the influence of this one project is often overstated, but there can be no doubt that it was a significant catalyst for urban revival, not only because of the museum’s mission and content, but also because of its exhilarating architectural form.  Read the rest of this entry »

A local host committee has been working for months to organize tours and special events to show off public art in Pittsburgh during the 2013 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention to the most discerning public art audience: Public Art Network (PAN) Preconference attendees. No pressure!

The photo for our album cover –  Public Art n’At  by the Office of Public Art and Morton Brown Live From Agnes Katz Plaza

The photo for our album cover – Public Art n’At by the Office of Public Art and Morton Brown: Live From Agnes Katz Plaza

On Wednesday, June 12, all of the preconference attendees are invited to our Welcome to Pittsburgh event. Meet up in the lobby of the Westin to get your registration and Dine-Around location organized.

A guide will walk with you a few blocks down to Agnes Katz Plaza in the heart of the Cultural District. The photo was taken at the end of March. We promise you won’t need a winter coat in June! But you might need an umbrella, so please pack one.  Read the rest of this entry »

Americans for the Arts’ Public Art Network Year in Review program is the only national program that specifically recognizes public art projects. Up to 50 projects are selected annually through an open-call application process and selected by two to three jurors. The projects are available on CD-Rom in our bookstore and include a PowerPoint, data and project list, and hundreds of project photos.

Our 2013 Public Art Year in Review nomination process is open through April 5, so be sure to nominate a project as we continue spotlight former honorees on ARTSblog.

Today’s project is Your Essential Magnificence by James Edward Talbot which was honored in 2012.

"Your Essential Magnificence" by James Edward Talbot

“Your Essential Magnificence” by James Edward Talbot (Photo by Philip Rogers)

Read the rest of this entry »

Open the Door & Come In: Celebrating Penny Balkin Bach

Posted by Liesel Fenner On March - 27 - 2013
Liesel Fenner

Liesel Fenner

“Open the Door and Come In,” a sweet phrase invented as a fortune cookie prediction by her granddaughter, fully expresses the life and work of Penny Balkin Bach, Public Art Dialogue’s (PAD) 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Penny is the longtime executive director of the Association for Public Art (APA; formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association) in Philadelphia; an Americans for the Arts Public Art Network (PAN) Council member; and a curator, producer, educator, writer, activist, advocate, mentor, world traveler, bon vivant, and arts administrator extraordinaire.

Her brilliant leadership and vision in the field was deservedly recognized and honored at the award ceremony on February 15 at the annual College Art Association conference in New York City. Surrounded by friends; APA board, PAN, and PAD members; and other fans and colleagues, Penny provided a sweeping overview of exemplary projects she’s curated, shepherded, and protected over the past thirty years.

Her talk, “Separation Anxiety: Rites of Passage in Public Art,” provided an overarching theme that followed the philosophy of Joseph Campbell’s stages of a hero’s journey: departure, initiation, return—rather like the phases of the public art commissioning process (proposing, information gathering, idea testing, fabricating, etc.).  Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.