Public Art

By on 15 June, 2012 in Art, City Living, Fun, Government with 0 Comments

Last night at One Dexter Plaza, the City of Montgomery’s Development Department held an Idea Factory on public art. It was a huge success. About 50 people showed up bubbling with ideas. The setup was impressive, offering categories and visuals of different kinds of public art – engagement, formal and functional – to make the concept of civic art easier to talk about. The staff also provided maps for folks to identify where and what kind of art they want to see downtown. Even the mayor spoke about the need for creative expression in our city center. Although the city’s Idea Factories are an ongoing feature to solicit public input on the direction of municipal government, this go ’round, the Idea Factory truly embodied the ideals of a civic forum. Hats off to the people that made it happen.

Having studied community arts and engagement in school, I was elated to see so many people at this particular Idea Factory because, generally speaking, most people believe that community art does not fulfill a real need or that it belongs on the bottom rungs of the ladder of civic priorities.

Contrary to these notions, civic art has benefited many places and people in profound ways, both directly and indirectly. Public art projects allow artists opportunities to display their talents to communities that may never have known about their work otherwise. Public art gives birth to a symbiotic relationship in which artists uplift their communities and community members reap the social and economic benefits, with a greater possibility of financially supporting their craftspeople in the future. Civic works can also have a substantial economic impact on a city, as shown in multiple case studies.

Are you more likely to live – and invest in – somewhere that seems sterile and cold, or somewhere that feels warm and vibrant? Do you dream of visiting the dreary midsize dime-a-dozen American city, or places where a unique sense of character permeate your entire experience? Public art can create community commerce, increase an area’s value, instigate tourism and in some instances generate a significant revenue stream for a city.

From a social standpoint, civic art speaks to the people and cultural identities of a community. Whenever I ask people what their favorite city is, I always follow up with questions about the aspects that draw them in. Rarely do they respond with “public art” as their answer; yet, they almost always discuss the place’s particular “vibe.” It would be silly to argue that a place’s aesthetics has nothing to do with its atmosphere. Public art can transform communities, instilling pride among constituents and often motivating them to start taking better care of where they live. Civic art can take areas previously deemed dangerous and turn them into safe, active community spaces. Check out the Pomegranate Center for examples. Public art can make people’s lives better.

I’m very, very excited to know that there are is an army of people in Montgomery that understand public art’s potential. I look forward to seeing what comes out of this most recent Idea Factory. In a city as big as ours, there are a lot more people we need to convince to come to the table for this and the many other discussions the Idea Factory will spark.

To those of you who dismiss public art as a civic priority, I will never say that teaching underprivileged students or leading health awareness campaigns is less important than installing civic art. But studies continue to prove that this kind of expression can monumentally improve the health and livelihood of a community. To those of you with ideas who don’t think these events are worth your time, they are. And it is because of folks like Idea Factory attendees, folks that have both the vision and the willingness to roll up their sleeves, that Montgomery is changing for the better. To those of you who have never been to an Idea Factory: Go.

A community is a complex, ever-evolving organism that requires innovative, holistic solutions to raise it up. All of us need to take advantage of the city’s willingness to lend us their ears, because it is only through these conversations that this city, our Montgomery, will truly become the home we want it to be.

Beth Hataway is part of the Montgomery organization known as Helicity.

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