The Business of Public (Art)Work

The discourse of what public art can be is ever expanding. With the accessibility of new creative tools and platforms to present new forms of public art, artists and presenters are pushing existing boundaries and creating new ones for what public art can be and how it is presented. It’s an exciting time for Masary Studios, a team of artists creating one-of-a-kind visual and sound experiences. By unlocking the hidden possibilities of an urban landscape or space, Masary’s works are at once a performance, a dissection of architecture, and an immersive visual spectacle. And while we are artists, we are also business owners. Each piece takes on a different artistic approach, but our business model for project management, technical direction, budgets, and attention is consistent and critical in how we see a vision through to retain a healthy balanced working life. 

Building Capacity for Creative Placemaking

Creative placemaking has been an ongoing discussion in cities and towns across the country for several years, but where do planners sit in this dialogue? What role does a planner have in the development of a creative placemaking strategy? How can planners incorporate creative placemaking ideas into their projects? Or encourage communities to implement these kinds of projects? Americans for the Arts has partnered with the American Planning Association, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Area Planning Council and The Townscape Institute, on a National Endowment for the Arts funded project to develop a suite of curated resources to assist planners in understanding how arts and culture can impact their work. The tools developed in this project will live as a Knowledgebase on APA’s website, accessible to all who are interested in implementing creative placemaking projects.

Maggie and Melvin—Generations of Advocacy

Sitting down for a documentary interview the day before the unveiling of a monument to Maggie L. Walker in Richmond, community leader Melvin Jones Jr. was bubbling with joy in anticipation of seeing a project he had fought so tirelessly for finally come to fruition. A humble man in his early sixties, Jones felt familial to me. Never taking too much credit for accomplishments and always speaking with a smile, he wore his passion on his sleeve for all to see and had an arsenal of Maggie L. Walker wisdom that could supersede any textbook. His energy was contagious and he carried a binder full of documents he had collected. What I assumed would be a nuts and bolts interview about process turned into a conversation around history, legacy, and the diligence of a man who would go from a concerned citizen with an idea to public art proponent over the course of a decade.

“We Can Do It”: Rosie the Riveter and the Power of Public Art

The recent passing of the inspiration for Rosie the Riveter underscores the importance of public art … and the role of women. The real Rosie the Riveter—Naomi Parker Fraley, a waitress in California—lived to be 96. An image of Naomi, hair tied in a polka-dot bandana, became an iconic symbol for unity during World War II and, later, for feminism. After she died January 20, 2018, her lengthy obituary in The New York Times was worthy of rock stars or heads of state. She was overlooked for decades, but when the public learned that Naomi was Rosie the Riveter, she said she wanted neither fame nor fortune.

The Long Journey to a Making a Monument: Maggie L. Walker Public Art Project

Through the public art process and with input from the community, the monument to Maggie Walker would be a reality at last. We’d build on the work of those who came before and follow the path for a project that was long overdue. It would be done by the 150th anniversary of her birth. Easy and uncontroversial, right? However, when I truly reflect, the path to that day was longer and rougher than any of us on the Public Art Site Selection Team anticipated. Many, many times we found ourselves turning to Walker’s quote about determination and perseverance: “Have faith, have hope, have courage and carry on.”

Family and Community: Honoring “Our Inspiration” Maggie L. Walker

I am the great, great-granddaughter of Maggie Walker and am truly honored and humbled to be related to this magnificent woman. She is an important character not only in Richmond history, but also in the history of African Americans and women. I am blessed to be able to tell her story and even more grateful to be able to drive down Broad Street in Richmond and see her standing in her rightful place. Monuments like hers are important in a city like Richmond, where Confederate ghosts loom. By having this public art in the center of the city, it serves to educate people who may not have known her and her contributions to the community.

Creating Community and Connection through Creating Public Art

When I started working on the Maggie Walker project, I had no idea of the magnitude and importance of the project, nor its national significance and impact it would have upon our community. Now when I walk by her statue, I see community members feeling connections to each other and sensing the investment made into this place of memorial created with public art. My own motivations to work in the field of public art stem from the compelling need to create more beauty, joy, and connection in the world. In using the arts to tell our stories, and in the process of working together as a group to make a project happen, we find community connections as beautiful as the pieces of art themselves. 

The Easy Way Is Not Always the Best Way

At Americans for the Arts, we are always looking for stories that demonstrate the transformative power of the arts and how the arts can impact people's lives in positive ways. When I was tasked with creating a video about a statue in Richmond, Virginia, what I had first thought would be a simple project about a public art piece became much more complicated than I had ever imagined. But thank goodness for complications, because I am so grateful to have been able to share the complex story of the monument to Maggie L. Walker, a civil rights pioneer and the first woman to be memorialized as a statue in the city of Richmond. 

Monument to Change

Over the past year, public monuments have been scrutinized and reviewed: What are the roles of these artworks? What relevance do they play in history? In contemporary culture? And, what do they say about the community where they are located? Richmond, Virginia has been looking at their monuments and considering what is missing for quite some time. As Americans for the Arts was looking to enhance the tools we offer to the public art field, the story of a new monument to civil rights activist Maggle L. Walker in Richmond proved to be an ideal subject for a short-form documentary video.

Americans for the Arts Launching Monthly Public Art Showcase on Facebook

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Join us on Facebook the last Tuesday of each month from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern Time) for one of our theme-based Public Art Showcase events. These are your opportunity to share the public artworks in your neighborhoods, towns, cities, or wherever!

Documentary Video Tells the Story of a New Public Art Monument in Richmond

“A Monument to Maggie” explores the decades-long community effort to develop a monument honoring civil rights hero Maggie L. Walker

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Monument to Maggie tells the story of the development and unveiling of a monument to civil rights hero Maggie L. Walker, which was unveiled after nearly 20 years of efforts led by community and political leaders to help tell another part of Richmond's history.

Breaking Barriers at the San Diego International Airport through Dance

Performers co-create monthly performances at the airport in both pre- and post-security sites, including baggage claim, pedestrian bridges, escalators, near fountains and waiting gates, curbside, and at popular lunch spots. The approach has been, in part, to create scores (creative structures) that have a lot of improvisational movement so that the performers can adapt to the way people are moving through the physical environment. Each and every time, we take people by surprise as they encounter the performance happening around them in an unexpected way. 

Removing Public Artworks: Process and Policies are Key

In the art world, deaccession is generally defined as permanently removing a work of art from a collection. Art museums, libraries, and other collecting institutions may use a deaccession process to remove pieces from their collections for a variety of reasons. Because of the nuances of municipalities and other public agencies that commission or own artworks, the processes for removing artworks from their collections aren’t easily transferable from their museum or library counterparts. There is still research to done on best practices for deaccessioning a public artwork, but we do know that a thoughtful process is key to addressing the issues that surround an artwork being considered for removal.

Dear Public Art Colleagues: We Stand With You

This has been a trying week for the public art field across the country. I have heard from many of you, expressing concerns and challenges as your communities turn to you for aide in addressing Confederate memorials and symbols in your public arenas. Please know that you are not alone in your work. The conversations and community meetings that have happened and will happen are necessary for our country to move forward. Your role is essential to your community, and we are here to support you.

“Congratulations, you have won our $1 million art award!”

I can honestly say that these are words I never expected to hear. Yet, in the summer of 2015 my team and I were lucky enough to be awarded a Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge grant. Having this much money felt almost ludicrous in its generosity. Finally, we could think big—very big. Like many longstanding critical urban issues, the ubiquity and apparent permanence of vacant buildings in our region has made it possible for us to ignore them. So, the question for us was, how should we go about drawing attention to these buildings?

Statement on the Intersection of the Arts, History, and Community Dialogue

Friday, August 18, 2017

Americans for the Arts releases a statement about the complex and important impact of public art, including monuments to the Confederacy, on the history and pride of diverse communities, and encourages ongoing civic dialogue around the removal and replacement of these monuments.

What if no one shows up?

I started using birdseed to draw six-foot intricate designs on the ground in a futile attempt to arrest change and explore fragility in social situations. My first public artwork, Seed the Change, was a chance to scale up these explorations of labor, change, and collaboration in a monumental fashion. My hope for Seed the Change was that it highlighted the city’s human potential, creating a welcoming space shaped by its people that embodies the beauty of labors of love, conversation, and individual expression.

Midden Mound Wickiups

Two sets of wickiups—simple domed structures associated with Native Americans of the Southwest—perched at the top of a manmade mound of a repurposed landfill site—now Pearsall Park—invite you to take in an interesting 360-degree view of San Antonio. The wickiup structures suggest an overlay to the history of this site: a large decommissioned city landfill repurposed into a contemporary City Park. The landfill is our cultural midden; the artwork appropriates the site as a social and ecological comment on consumption.

Discovering Philadelphia with “47 Stories”

47 Stories reimagined Philadelphia's north-south-running 47 bus route, telling the stories of the immigrant and refugee communities that are connected from bus stop to bus stop. Through interviews, audio collage, alternative map designs, and a wrapped SEPTA bus, artists Shira Walinsky and Laura Deutch activated the public space of city transit in a new way. The goal was to make immigrant and refugee communities visible, to acknowledge and bring attention to their contributions to Philadelphia.

The Making of Trumpet Flower

Trumpet Flower was a labor of love, and at times it felt Sisyphean. In this case, the proverbial boulder was a horn-shaped monstrosity crafted from wood and steel, and the corresponding mountain was a six-story building which would support this towering artwork as it twisted up from the downtown Houston main street. Not only a feat of engineering and a marvel of craftsmanship, Trumpet Flower was also a great opportunity for community engagement. Taking Renner’s popular “painting party” activity to the next level, Flying Carpet invited the public to come make their mark on the sculpture, and Houstonians turned out en masse.

Amiskwaciw Wâskâyhkan Ihtâwin :: Community Engagement: Genius Loci of Place

For an artist, the initial concept for a public art project can be an exciting experience followed by anxious moments of uncertainty. Thinking of a concept that speaks to the public, while reflecting the values of your own artistic expression, is a challenging task. Questions preoccupied me as I conceptualized and created Amiskwaciw Wâskâyhkan Ihtâwin, a three-dimensional gateway/mural located in downtown Edmonton, Alberta. My awareness of Edmonton’s historic role as a gathering place for Indigenous peoples provided an essential clue to uncovering the essence of this special park.

Prototyping: Again, with feeling!

An iterative process is often useful, especially in the context of interactive public art: the collective public has a genius ability to subvert or repurpose objects and installations from their intended purpose. It can therefore be very helpful to periodically get something into the hands of someone who hasn’t been immersed in the project since its conception to see what they will do with it. Workshops with the communities that will ultimately be served by a project can serve as valuable de facto prototyping sessions as well.

Part to Part: Building “Under Magnitude”

Under Magnitude is a two-story tall permanent structure suspended in the atrium of Orlando's Orange County Convention Center that carves a three-dimensional impact into an otherwise vast space. The story behind the design and construction of the project is that it further evolves my invention of “Structural Stripes”: the fundamental premise of the studio to unite surface, skin, and space into a holistic and never-before-seen system.

Facing History Mural

At the beginning of this project, I thought about how murals serve as tools to strengthen narratives about place. This “Upstanders Mural” is no exception. In addition to strengthening the narrative of Memphis as a place of Civil Rights struggle and heroism, this mural should shift the narrative. It should widen the scope of the history of Memphis’ civic engagement from one predominantly focused on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to one that includes a wider range of Memphis activists and “upstanders.”

The Story of Firmament

Yes, Firmament is an experience. It’s not something you come up to look at and say, “oh, how clever” (as the case with many LED pieces). It’s a place where you go, and sometimes stay. It’s an environment that draws you in and gives you a comfy spot to be. This was my biggest lesson from creating Firmament—that being clever and pretty is great, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as a place and space for people to really enjoy the moment.

“Experiments in Public Art”—A Citywide Laboratory Expanding the Potential of Public Art

Debuting in 2016, the series of temporary artworks commissioned through Boulder, Colorado’s “Experiments in Public Art” program disrupt the traditional commissioning process. Each project’s temporality encourages work responding to “now”: What’s urgent? What is an immediate community conversation? How can public art be an agent to facilitate these conversations? What experimental practices can advance the artists’ body of work, the use of a public site, or the community interaction with art?

Reflection, Representation, and “14 Movements”

Artist Mat Tomezsko’s 2016 project with Mural Arts Philadelphia, 14 Movements: A Symphony in Color and Words, started out as a beautification request from the 2016 Democratic National Convention Host Committee, but it became so much more. Tomezsko created a wash of color along the median of Broad Street, stretching out languidly over 14 city blocks, a full mile-long mural marking a major transit corridor. 14 Movements created opportunities for reflection on the diversity of experience in Philadelphia, the very real, rich, inner lives that unfold every day in simple journeys down the street.

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