A couple of things made me think about public art this week – one is the upcoming election, and the other is the recent announcement from the Bloomberg Foundation to award competing American cities with funding to develop temporary public art projects. This got me thinking about awareness of public art, which in turn, got me thinking about infrastructure and the ways in which Hamilton needs more structural support.
Many artists I've met or worked with over the years, who in some capacity work within a public context, are looking for ways to contribute to their city through this practice. But often the 'system' is unaccessible. Public art calls can entail complicated processes: lengthy submission requirements, contracts longer than a short novel, and difficult construction or installation planning. As either an experienced artist or a newcomer to public art, the process can be very isolating, which I've always found odd in one of the most collaborative arts practices.
An ideal framework that could be built to change this (which already exists in my fantasy city built from public art dreams – idealist to a fault), would have: guides, toolkits, outlines and step-by-step explanations on how the process works – upfront - so an artist knew what they were getting into before they applied, and also because the education piece of public art is missing; contracts tailored to each artist and project with basic professional standards in place (ie. intellectual property); mentorship opportunities for artists to work with engineers, fabricators, designers, architects, etc, so it's a team in the intended sense, not the delusional sense. Budgets would be broken up and creatively managed so the artist and their team were paid when they needed money and for the work actually done. 'Community engagement' would be long-term relationship building, and the work would not be 'completed' when it was in the ground or installed onsite. It's process and structure, but it's important because it has ripples far and wide.
These issues are universal, from my experience in North American programs anyway, so certainly not a Hamilton creation. But we need the structural systems in place which have the artist in mind, and support the basic foundations required to acheive success, for the public art program, the artist and the city. Why is this important? Because public art is part of a larger discussion about our civic spaces, our streets, and public accessibility. And its about citizens who change and develop our city and think creatively, which is the real system we need to invest in. Change.
Ciara McKeown is a Hamilton resident currently working with Waterfront Toronto's public art program. Ciara is a member of the Supercrawl Curatorial Committee, runs a regional public art round-table event, and previously worked in The City of Hamilton's Public Art Program. Educated at McGill and NYU, Ciara has worked in public art in Calgary, was on the Board of Directors with CAFK+A, and ran a New York-based start up public art organization. She has written for Stephen Magazine, Public Art Review, Americans for the Arts blog, and looks forward to working with HAC on the LivingArts Program. @ciaramckeown