Creative Curation: Part 1

junkyardarts July 9, 2011 Comments Off on Creative Curation: Part 1
Creative Curation: Part 1

Here we go! You asked me for my thesis (god knows why!) and now I’m giving it to you. Select chapters will be printed and you will see what the hell I was doing when I decided that The Junkyard could be more than just a site to buy and sell art, but be an online art resource for the masses.

Public Art was always an important issue for me, though in our economic decline I see now more than ever the potential for public art programs in our cities and how they can lift up communities emotionally, aesthetically and better yet: economically. Let’s get on with it –

Creative Curation: Uniting Public Art and the Theory of Creative Tourism to Increase Boston Arts Exposure

Boston Versus Public Art

According to the Boston Art Commission website, there are over 100 unique works of public art within the Boston city limits, including fountains, statues, landmarks and gathering places with unique design; each are listed in the Public Art Walk listing complete with a map, thumbnail image of the work and description24. With this general information one might think the need for an aggressive public art program isn?t a reality, but further examination will demonstrate just how important a new public art project really is to the creative wealth and economic wellness of Boston.

Current Public Installations

It is important to establish the type of public art this thesis and subsequent programs within is recommending. While public art can be defined as work created for the purpose of public display and can include benches, meeting places, fountains, decorative bricks or panels, kinetic sculptures and just about anything else, it may also include (particularly in Boston) historical sites and monuments as well. While the historic sculptures and statues are vital to a city’s identity, Boston has no trouble enticing and entertaining historical tourism. In fact, most of the tourists visiting Boston are just that: visitors drawn to the strong historical roots, landmarks and events that make Boston such a special city. But when discussing the new and growing trend in creative tourism, Boston is far behind other cities that offer both history and public art-for-arts-sake.

Public Art is a driving force for economic growth and has been proven thus on a national level.  As of 2010 Boston does not have, nor does it plan to implement a Percent for Art Program

While some may argue a city does not have a need for specifically non-historic public art, others may argue that without acknowledgement of, and support for unique art-for-arts-sake, a city does not value its creative culture and thus does not value the arts. Also consider that only having historic public art on display limits a cities cultural growth. Most of the sculptures listed on the Public Art Walk reference icons and events that predate 1950, and as such, there is an entire generation of people living in Boston who have no immediate ties to these figures and are unlikely to frequent the public artwork. It also creates a city that is living in the past – living through memorials of historic figures and moments, but not reaching for a new vision for the future.
Out of the one hundred public works listed on the Boston Public Art Walk, only 32 are non-historic, these works do not directly or obviously reference Boston history but rather exist for aesthetics.

While the importance of these works should not be diminished by the designation of non- historic, it is more important to note how unique they are in a city filled with such historical value. However, the issue of placement and visibility of these works is vital to understanding the public art status-quo in Boston. Out of the thirty-two non-historic works of art in Boston, eight were made after the year 2000, and out of the full one hundred works, only sixteen were made after 2000. Of the non-historic public art works, four are on Cambridge Street directly next to each other, two are on the harbor four reside near the Haymarket area, and twelve reside in the Boston Public Gardens and Boston Common, both of which are essentially part of the same park.

30-boy_and_bird_fountain-1

While the Public Garden is a common tourist attraction, combining almost all of the non-historic public art in one area of the city leaves little reason for tourists to go anywhere else, particularly if they do not realize more public art is available to enjoy, and the local economy suffers. There is also the issue of Boston inhabitants who will not regularly visit the Garden because it is not generally an area that is commuted across for business, and the citizens of Boston with missed opportunities to view great public art as a daily experience. As noted in Chapter One, a number of exhibitions in the city that allowed for creativity, even for artists to acknowledge history in an inventive and contemporary way, which means Boston is not yet lost in terms of public art. Still, more needs to be done.

It is estimated that 81% of tourists across the country travel to cities for a cultural experience that include art museums and galleries (39%), historic sites (31%), as well as wanting to experience the city as if they were a resident themselves. 

We must then return to the Boston Art Commission to note what has been accomplished in recent years to increase the number of public art projects. While there are at least thirty-two non-historic works on view currently, only eight are recent acquisitions while the other projects (the CowParade for instance) have been temporary. The question of why the Fort Point art exhibitions and temporary works have not been listed on the Public Art Walk, or the other dozens of projects run through the 1990’s have no mention on the BAC website are also important to consider. The end result is the impressions that the city does not have to commit, to its citizens or tourists, artwork that would permanently enhance the city landscape, hence the „good enough? standing previously mentioned. One may speculate that temporary installations allow a sense of relief to the powers-that-be in that they are not responsible for the permanent upkeep and maintenance of the public art, and do not have to concern themselves with changing moods and movements in art.

Certainly these are all valid considerations for any city when dealing with public art and should be considered seriously in the following chapters as full public art programs are devised. The reality is that works need to be maintained; movements and feelings towards pieces may change dramatically over the years and the city does not want to risk having dated, ungrounded works on permanent display. It should be considered that public works such as stationary sculpture are the easiest to maintain by way of keeping them free of graffiti, physical damage elemental or otherwise, while works with moving parts such as fountains, mobile sculptures and temporary organic installations will require more commitment by the city to keep them maintained. The newly established “Adopt a Statue” program through the BAC will absolutely help with maintenance by individual and corporate donations, though promotion of the program has been limited. Despite the maintenance, permits and physical construction of the works, there is far much more to gain by way of publicity, the growing economy and creative tourism.

Percent for Art

Percent for Art programs have been springing up around the country since 1959. Nationally, dozens of individual cities have enacted Percent for Art programs to enhance the cultural landscape and foster a creative economy; a number of states have created a state-wide Percent for Art program that encompasses public works programs and redevelopment programs. States such as Hawaii, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and New Hampshire, and cities like New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco dedicate between 0.5% and two percent of public works project budgets to the creation of a public work of art to adorn a building.

26. Ether Monument - 2

Percent for Art ordinances are popular for a number of reasons; the ease with which a city can set aside funds for public art projects, and the clear economic benefits of having unique public art and public spaces within a city, to name a few. It is estimated that 81% of tourists across the country travel to cities for a cultural experience that include art museums and galleries (39%), historic sites (31%), as well as wanting to experience the city as if they were a resident themselves. Utilizing a Percent for Art ordinance is ideal to a city to invest in its economic future as well as its creative and cultural future. The city is not responsible for raising funds for these projects and the residents do not experience higher local taxes; a Percent for Art ordinance proves to be a clear and straightforward method of providing funds that essentially make the residential, creative and cultural experience within a city distinctive. It is a driving force for economic growth and has been proven thus on a national level.

As of 2010 Boston does not have, nor does it plan to implement a Percent for Art Program, as noted by current Staff Director of the Boston Art Commission, Karin Goodfellow. Why they are not currently considering this could be due to a number of reasons. Certainly dedicating 0.5-2% of construction costs for public buildings or public spaces means buildings need to create an escrow account for the funds dedicated to the art projects, and there would need to be additional staff to oversee the public art program that is associated with that particular building or renovation. There is conflicting information on Boston?s short lived Percent for Art program and why it was disbanded from related entities, first-hand accounts, and historical events coinciding.

According to the Massachusetts College of Art website for the Urban Arts Institute, Boston previously had a Percent for Art program but it was disbanded in the 1980’s. However on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) website, they note that due to the state’s Percent for Art program there have been a number of art installations created to enhance the train and subway social spaces. There is no information available about a state Percent for Art program and it is possible the listing is outdated. As noted earlier, many states do take on a Percent for Art program, but more often than not it is left to the individual cities to decide which municipal funds will go to such a program, if any.

28. Small Child Fountain - 1

Other speculation as to why the program was disbanded include the evolution of the Big Dig project in the late 1980s, the possible misuse of funds by the state, and the public disapproval and disappointment with a project funded by the Percent for Art ordinance; this according to Sarah Hutt, former member of the Boston Art Commission. With the Big Dig initially estimated to cost a total $2.8 billion in 1985, a Percent for Art program, even at 0.5%, would hold $14 million in escrow for art projects; this amount of money could easily be argued as excessive and detrimental to the project. Whether $14 million is excessive or not can be debated, but no matter what, the program was disbanded just in time to avoid this art funding windfall and instead Boston has been smothered in construction sites and open spaces with very little public art to make it more appealing and inviting to visitors and citizens alike.

combining almost all of the non-historic public art in one area of the city leaves little reason for tourists to go anywhere else, particularly if they do not realize more public art is available to enjoy, and the local economy suffers.

Hutt noted that a previous Percent for Art funded project, a meeting room in the State building, was adorned with garish decorations, expensive imported marble and other seemingly gaudy materials caused an uproar with the locals claiming funds were being misused and the project was deemed a waste of money32. No matter what brought on the ordinance?s demise, it is clear that the city has no intentions of bringing it back and the city landscape continues to suffer.

While Boston struggles to create a comprehensive public art program, other cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco continue to move ahead in artistic pursuits and provide great insight into how a Percent for Art program can be used responsibly and successfully and what other programs are in place for Boston to adopt.

Images courtesy of Public Art Boston /

Comments are closed.