Friday, January 11, 2008

Art in public places

There's something bizarre about sculptures in public places. Wonderfully bizarre. I mean, a statue or three in the quaint downtown along the pedestrian walkway that passes among the shops, those are less surprising to me. I enjoy those as well, but I can see the council arguing that it adds to the atmosphere of the places, and therefore encourages people to visit from out of town and spend their money to support area businesses (a tax benefit to the city several times over). So no shock to find them there (and we really do have a great Old Town for you to come visit and spend your money in...).

But how random is it to find artsy signs and other sculptures along the bike trail that goes by my house? It's a new trail, one that I imagine gets much less traffic than some of the others (at least so it seems to me as I run or bike on all of them). And especially south from us, where the trail wanders a bit before ending at a park. In one stretch where I rarely see people, next to a trailhead parking lot that never has cars parked in it, are a series of giant, well-rusted metal shadow boxes. They've been up for a while (and seemed especially random when there was nothing in them), but this morning when I ran down there (in the crazy wind), I found they'd added some mosaic-covered figures, leaning out from the boxes to wave at those on the trail. I love them. There are others, more whimsical and impressive out on the other end of town where a different trail currently ends. But I can imagine some libertarian-minded neighbors complaining, assuming tax money paid for them...which I don't know for sure for the ones near here, though I know the others cost the city quite a bit. I mean, what do they do? How do they add to our city?

I think that's why I like them--they don't, not in any practical-minded, short-term way. I'd like to hope that in the long-term they enrich the lives of those who live here, which adds to the city in intangible ways. Even if not, they're adding to my life, even if it's in ways that will likely never result in added money for the city. Here's to art in public places then!

5 comments:

Lion said...

That's pretty neat! I enjoy finding things like that on less-trafficked paths. It's like you're being let in on some adorable secret.

Orlando--and I imagine any large city (are you considered part of Denver where you are?)--has a portion of its yearly budget that must go to public art, whether or not the city needs or wants it. I don't know if it's necessarily for revenue building as you suggest... I suspect it's more of a "show how art-conscious we are/placate the yuppie contingency" thing, honestly. But the requirement has made its presence known in strange ways.

One year, whoever-it-was that was in charge of that found herself at the spending deadline, and flushed all of her public art budget on a giant ceramic statue of a frog. Later, when she ran for mayor, the opposition ran commercials about how "omigosh! she spent $12,000 of our sales tax revenue on a frog!" conveniently ignoring the budget requirement.

More recently, though, the budget has been spent on populating downtown with themed anoles. They're about four feet high, painted in designs that reflect something about the area they've been placed in... a basketballer anole outside the arena, an opera-glassed anole outside the arts center, abstract-patterned anoles at the museum of art, that sort of thing. They're whimsical and I like them, despite the ulterior motive to their existence. Vancouver, BC does a similar thing with killer whales.

... I think I may actually have referenced all this in the short story that Lesli used to get me into DD. Weird.

Probably my favorite public art that I have seen can be found in Ithaca, where they have a scale model of the solar system that starts with a pillar for the sun in the center of the commons and spreads all over town. You could see up to Mars from the commons, but I never did figure out where they stuck Pluto...

Daniel Ausema said...

Part of Denver? No! We're about an hour away and definitely our own community.

Interesting other things--I think Denver might have something like the themed animals. Seems I've heard of something like that, though I'm not sure what animal. I think Chicago had cows some years ago.

I may have to work public art into a story someday. Public storytelling in a way is tied into that as well...and far more ephemeral. So that fascinates me too.

Lion said...

Ah, I didn't actually know where you are. Your "location" on blogger just says Colorado, so I took a wild guess.

My use of the public art thing wasn't especially profound, just another element of the setting, which was basically an extended hate-on for Orlando. :) I'd like to see what you'd do with it, though.

Daniel Ausema said...

The tag on the entry does say "Fort Collins" though =) We're Front Range, just like Denver, which means like them we're at the edge of the foothills but still technically on the high plains. So there's more similarity than, say, between Denver and any of the towns just a little way up into the mountains, or between us and some of the more agricultural-focused cities to the east. And our 'local' TV news is all based in Denver. But there's enough undeveloped between here and there that we're certainly distinct.

I think I remember that story, now you mention it--the two characters meet because she's painting a mural, right?

Lion said...

Yep, the mural is the site of hteir meeting. Incest-boy is the artist, his eventual girlfriend is the city official who hired him to satisfy the budget requirement.