I was reminiscing recently on my days running a small, scrappy public art start up in Brooklyn. The days when I worked so closely with artists we spent hours and hours together talking about art, theirs and other peoples`; when the smallest tasks were fantastic, when 'important' meetings were my 'first time' meetings, and it was all fresh, exciting and inspiring (while stressful and exhausting). But what that experience did have, at the core of a freely developing organization, was the ability to adapt. We met with neighbors and artists and local politicians, we listened, we learned and we grew. We thought about the immediate while simultaneously always thought about the big picture - I don’t know that my energy and hours could have been spent otherwise – but we knew the potential that was there, and the risks and chances were everything. As an experience so different from the one I live now, in a public organization, even the time outside of work I spend thinking about or doing public art stuff, it feels like the impending structures overpower the ideas and the vision.
Related to this, I've been thinking a lot about the big picture, and how important long-term planning is, in order to have a platform for ideas and for public art to be part of, and mean something beyond itself. Based on what I`ve seen in other art plans (especially in Europe and the US), and what I think is a noticeable shift in public art in recent years, the vision is also about disruption and hidden meanings, underlying systems and connectedness. Yet this change is not embraced in some stratas of this field and we need to catch up. For example, this week at work I was trying to find examples for a colleague of well-sited ‘successful’ public art in a public plaza or park. Another public art guru and I racked our brains to come up with something…..it sadly took way too long. Well-sited, permanent art in public squares/parks brought me back to looking at the monumental Plop art in plazas in the 1960s. For two days my colleague and I spent time in frustration, recognizing that for so long, and still, people see all public art in this way! And a lot of it is not good!
It has nothing to do with the power of the sculpture or allowing the artists' ideas to flourish for a long time in a publicly accessible space - that is absolutely important and will be for a long time. But I wish the other side could flourish just as much. I see the issue more about following systems we set up years ago which enforce a production line of works into situations where they often lack vision. You may disagree, but you can tell when a work is not part of a bigger picture or plan (we expect this when we’re in an institutional setting, why not in our public spaces)?
Conversely, I met with an artist collective this week who work not within a physical space or site when working in public, but I would suggest practice within the realm of experience and subversion – and there IS a plan for that because it’s about bigger vision, longer-term, and their ideas as a whole. And it was inspiring to feel like I was back in Brooklyn, being part of the ideas and feeling free to think about vision and the POSSIBILITIES. It’s all long-term when it becomes personal, when you`re invested in it. So investing in the artist, the idea over the system, might free us to adapt and be nimble, and give us more to believe in.