Posted by: cantmisssd | October 27, 2010

Case Studies in Public Art

The MuralsDC program is rolling out seven new public murals, making it 27 completed projects since starting in 2007. It was begun to attack illegal tagging graffiti, hiring local street artists and community children to paint full murals over the tags. A BBC report earlier this year highlights the ways that the group public art projects have provided an opportunity for neighborhoods to learn about and honor their heritage- particularly helpful when so many children are involved in the process.

Meanwhile, in New York City, a similar project has sprung up organically without government- a group of street artists has recently begun a project paying tribute to early innovators of the genre while adding a philosophical, educational twist. Replicating signature works from the early days of street art, they add references to Plato, Gandhi, Spinoza, and others. Echoing the aspirations and achievements of MuralsDC,

In New York the idea is to use the pieces to try to teach a two-part history lesson. The first is about the glories (as the collective sees it) of the early days of graffiti and the invention of a vernacular art form that has swept the world. The second lesson is about world history itself, in neighborhoods where education remains low on the list of priorities for many struggling teenagers.

As one of the artists explains, “We hope that the people who see the words help each other figure out what they’re about, and that these things start a conversation that keeps going on the streets.”

Two sides of the coin in a debate over the role of government in public art. But both highlight the importance of public art- sparking and driving conversations about personal and community identity, education, organizing, fighting back against graffiti tagging- and generally helping to push people to take a more active interest in their neighborhoods.

One hopes that it’s true that the creative impulse cannot be contained, and that those who are moved will find an outlet for their art no matter what. But in both DC and New York, it’s clear the role of a supportive infrastructure cannot be overlooked. In the case of DC, the government has helped provide support to organize projects that give children a productive way to get involved and improve their community. In New York, a long-standing artistic tradition is inspiring visual remixes in a communal setting that test the boundaries of how far public street art can push people. In both cases- structure (even rebellious structure) breeds new levels of achievement.

Public funding for public art is hardly a new concept, and around the world it is consistently used to beautify, to inspire, and to strengthen communities. But like anything, it can be done well or it can be done poorly. When that support is designed to give people a new avenue to be productive and to contribute to their community, it can go a long way.

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