Posted by: cantmisssd | October 6, 2010

The point of public art (part 2)

Yesterday I covered the possibilities of public art, and the process of generating that art, in mobilizing communities to get more involved in government and development. But it wouldn’t be complete without discussing the deeper reasons for shouting down public art.

It was a reasonable notion in the original memo about nixing the public art budget: “While the goals of public art are important and commendable, they must be closely examined at a time when our public safety goals cannot be adequately funded,” the memo states.

And when VoSD checked in with a Mayor’s spokesman, he sounded the same theme: “We need to save every penny,” he said. “We’re talking about a $72 million budget deficit.” Which is fine as far as that goes.

Tough budget times means tough cuts, there’s no question. But in the midst of making tough budget decisions, it can be hard to avoid deeper questions about the role of government. Like a VoSD commenter said yesterday, “This conversation is just a cog in the wheel of Defining the mission of government.” It is, though I see it from the opposite perspective as the commenter.

It’s convenient to turn a conversation about temporary cuts in arts funding into a conversation about whether government should be funding the arts at all. And plenty of people will say no (or yes) without thinking about it, but those who drive a discussion about arts being an inappropriate role for government are driving at something deeper. As I discussed yesterday, government support for public art projects is only partly about the art itself. It’s about building a community that has less crime, stronger locally owned small businesses, higher standards of education, are more attractive to tourists, and generally more invested in a positive course for the city. Presumably, these are all good things that we can all aspire to.

On the other hand, arguing against public art as an important consideration for government is specifically to de-prioritize the empowerment of neighborhoods to achieve all of those things based largely on their own initiative. In other words, giving communities the tools to do the job of government on their own because they’re engaged and invested in the outcomes. The trouble, of course, is that many of the leading advocates for smaller government don’t want to replace government with stronger neighborhoods, but with stronger corporations. So public art becomes one of the many existential proxy battles over the priorities of a given community.

Ultimately, in an ideal arrangement, this would all simply be about providing opportunities. Because there’s ability everywhere if we just muster the means to foster it. It’s not about telling people how to do it, or about forcing them to do it, it’s about telling people they can do it and providing the means to those who want to.

Public art projects aren’t going to save the world, but they can and should be part of the vision for stronger communities.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lucas O'Connor and Lucas O'Connor, Debbie Terry. Debbie Terry said: RT @lucasoconnor: This one isn't Kelly's fault quite as much. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: