Public art: State funds dedicated to create works for all

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

One of the more famous pieces of modern public art is the "Chicago Picasso," which was placed on the Daley Plaza in Chicago in 1967. The sculpture by the famous artist is 50 feet tall, weighs 162 tons and cost $351,959 to install (Picasso donated the work).

The first percent-for-art legislation was enacted in Philadelphia in 1959. During the 1980s, it became a popular movement in many other states, with amounts to be designated for art ranging from 0.5 percent to 2 percent of construction costs. Now, some 39 of the 50 states have at least one program.

"Although Utah was not the first to adopt the plan, we have a long history of supporting the arts," says Glenn. "Utah does have the oldest Arts Council in the nation and a long tradition of placing art in public places."

The state currently has more than a dozen public art projects that are planned or in progress. As projects come along, a call for artists is posted on websites and sent out in mailings and emails. Generally, several hundred artists respond. A selection committee is formed for each project, which includes people from the specific location as well as various experts. Finalists are invited to submit a detailed proposal and a scale model of the work. Then the commission is awarded. "We like to give them about a year to complete the work," says Glenn. Some projects take longer than others.

One thing he loves most, "is the democratic nature of the program. It doesn't matter where people are from or their economic circumstances, everyone has the same chances. And art goes to communities large and small."

Selection committees generally look for something that "has pride of place, that will demonstrate a significance to people who visit it. It is meant to contribute to the quality of life in the community, to enhance the lives of all who see it."

A challenging process

Dan Cummings has been involved in several public art projects. Two things about the process are particularly appealing to him. The first is the challenge of coming up with something that fits the site, the purpose, the setting, the mood. It's always fun to see what you can come up with, he says.

As owner of Spectrum Studio, he is primarily known for his glass work, but "I've learned so many other facets of the work, like how to figure the center of gravity for huge stones. This art is done on such a huge scale, so if things go wrong at that level, it's a big wrong." Luckily, nothing has.

The second thing Cummings especially likes is that it is public art. "There's a definite sense of satisfaction is knowing that it will be seen by thousands, maybe even a million people instead of being tucked away in a high-end residential home where it looks great, but only a few people see it."

One of his projects was art for the TRAX station on 200 West between 800 and 900 South. For that one, "we designed it to look kind of like a treehouse. We did molds of the faces of kids who live in the area and cast them in glass."

He and sculptor Mark DeGraffenried also created a sculpture/seating area for the Mountainland Applied Technology College in Lehi. The piece "honors the fields of study offered at the college in sculptural bronze, stone, glass, words and light."

Cummings are Dana Kuglin created a 44-foot high glass sculpture featuring butterflies that breaks into a DNA chain. It hangs in an atrium at Westminster College. Currently, he is working on some large glass installations for a mental health facility at the University of Utah.

Feedback he has received on some of his projects has been gratifying, Cummings says. Students have told him that as they walk in and out or sit by the "Light of Knowledge" sculpture at the technology college, "that it changes how they see life, changes how they make decisions." That's what art does for him, says Cummings, so to have it impact others in that same way means a lot.

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