Public art: State funds dedicated to create works for all

Published: Sunday, July 24 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

The art at the TRAX station at 200 West between 800 and 900 South is designed to look like a treehouse.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — What does art do?

Maybe for the scared and uncertain child having to visit the 2nd District and Juvenile Court in the Davis County Courthouse, Dennis Smith's fanciful flying machines will briefly take his mind off his troubles. "These airships manifest our fondest hopes in life," says the Utah Art Council's description of the art, "our desires for security, imagination, intimacy and adventure. Our dreams of being able to fly are in reality metaphors of transcendence."

Maybe the student who walks by Angelo Caravaglia's "Iccarus and Pegasus" sculpture at the Snow College Humanities and Arts Building will think about flying metaphorically, as well. Maybe he will develop faith in his own abilities to reach new heights but also the hazards of trying to fly too high too fast.

Maybe the visitor to the Division of Human Services and Environmental Quality building in Salt Lake city will walk past Yolly Torres' bright, colorful canvas murals depicting places such as "Quiet Morning, Zion National Park" or "Autumn Splendor, Mt. Timpanogos," and feel not only gratitude that he lives in such a beautiful place but also a renewed desire to keep it that way.

Maybe the person driving down a busy, traffic-packed I-15 will notice the artwork carved into the overpass and, for a few minutes at least, will feel a bit less stressed, will think the world seems a bit brighter.

"Without art," wrote George Bernard Shaw, "the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable."

With art, there are unlimited possibilities.

That was the thinking of the Utah Legislature 25 years ago when it established a program that has become known as the "Utah-Percent-For-Art" Act, which provides that a "portion of appropriations for capital expenditures be set aside for the acquisition of art used for public buildings." The act, which went into effect July 1, 1985, requires that 1 percent of hard construction costs be used for commissioned art and has a fourfold purpose:

Enhance the quality of life in the state by placing art of the highest quality in public spaces where it is seen by the general public;

Promote and preserve appreciation for and exposure to the arts;

Foster cultural development in the state;

Encourage the creativity and talents of its artists and craftspeople.

Since that time, says Jim Glenn, Public Art program manager, the state has developed a collection of more than 220 artworks at more than 90 locations all over Utah. The collection encompasses everything from delicate weavings to monumental bronze and stone sculptures, all specific to the site and/or architecture of the agency and the community.

In addition, other agencies and local governments have adopted similar programs; Salt Lake City, Ogden, Park City, Salt Lake County, the Utah Department of Transportation, the Utah Transit Authority, to name a few.

The goal, says Glenn, "is to take art out of galleries and make it a part of our everyday experience. It adds a human touch to our state facilities."

A long tradition

The idea of public art is nothing new, of course. The Greeks believed wholeheartedly in the idea of art that could be viewed in appreciated by the whole community. Early public art there often took the form of sculpture, which was used to grace temples such as the Parthenon in Athens.

The Romans mass-produced statues of their emperor and sent them to all corners of the empire as a reminder of the glory of Rome. Medieval cathedrals were adorned with statues, stained glass, altarpieces and other forms of art. And few pieces even today match those produced during the Italian Renaissance.

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