On March 26, the Salt Lake City Arts Council and the Salt Lake Art Design Board presented a forum for visual arts to learn more about the public art opportunities and their concomitant issues.
The keynote speaker at the workshop was Jerry Allen, current director of the Dallas Arts Commission and former director of the King County (Seattle) Arts Commission.Allen brought with him a series of slides of successful and unsuccessful public art projects throughout the country. Through government adopted ordinances, a percentage of the construction budget for public buildings is set aside for the purchase or commission of artwork. In his presentation, Allen touched on many of the questions public administrators must address in the "percent-for-art" programs.
For Allen, the process involving an artist in the design of the urban landscape is crucial in developing a sense of place for the residents. "The urban landscape can be affected with a little bit of effort," said Allen. "A city is not a museum," he continued in describing the difference between art in public places and art in a museum. For a city resident, a successfully executed and placed piece of art can bring "a moment of joy, serendipity." Allen also addressed the public's response to contemporary art that may seem alien to the average person by asserting that "works of art need time to be assimilated into the visual vocabulary of the community." Community involvement and subsequent investment in the design of public spaces, will assist in bridging the gap of understanding between the artist's vision and the public's acceptance. Without community involvement in the public art process, administrators will find themselves guilty of the "shoot first, ask questions later" trap.
Frank Sanguinetti, director of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, moderated a cross-discipline panel which tackled the issues that arise in the public art field. In summary, Sanguinetti reiterated statements from the panelists. The neighborhood in which artwork is to be placed must be taken into account; public art engenders both a challenge and controversy by its nature; time is an important factor in the acceptance of a public artwork; and the selection process is extremely important in the success of the project. The panel concurred that there is no single answer for the "right way" to select and place art in public places. Because the role of the artist in these projects is to "articulate public values," public art is not a field of endeavor for all visual artists.
Tom Godfrey, chairperson of the Salt Lake City Council, opened the workshop with the Latin term, "ars longa, vita brevis" (the arts are lasting and life is short) as the theme in his introduction. Godfrey noted that the art we select today will exist well beyond our lifetime for the benefit of future generations. "When the current budget problems we are struggling with are long forgotten, the art will remain and be remembered as our contribution in the city." Godfrey feels that all art forms contribute to the rejuvenation, quality of life and the economic health of a city.
Close to 100 artists attended the day long workshop with considerable response of excitement and thought-provoking discussions. Godfrey announced four city projects for which the Design Board will be accepting artists proposals: Miller Park, Sorenson Park, Elks Park and the Sugarhouse Pedestrian Link. For more information on these projects, artists can contact the Salt Lake City Arts Council. The State of Utah Percent-for Art program is administered through the Utah Arts Council.
The first two state percent-for-arts projects: the Data Processing Center on Capitol Hill and the Juvenile Court Building in Ogden, are midway through the selection process. Several more projects will be coming up in the next few months. For more information on the state program, contact David Holz at the Utah Arts Council.
Salt Lake County also administers a percent-for-arts program which purchased and installed a collection of artwork at the new county complex on 21st South and State.
Private enterprise also contributes art to the urban landscape A notable example is the construction currently underway on Pierpont Place for the new home of the Phillips Gallery. The cooperative effort by architect Max Smith and artists Silvia Davis, Stephen Goldsmith and Richard Johnston is in production and portends an environment worthy of the artisan.