Visual Art Commentaries

Responsibility of Public Art
Virginia Hoffman, SRQDaily Febuary 18, 2012

Public art is part of the wardrobe of a city. It helps to define who lives there and speaks to the quality of life within. For the citizenry, public art elicits different meanings: emotions may run high and it might even entertain. There is a responsibility required of public art programs to establish a common legacy and supportive role towards communal credibility.

Public art, like fashion, has morphed over the years. In the United States, it began as monuments, evolved into fabricated modern monolithic sculpture and today encompasses an endless plethora of content and context. When working to understand the role that public art plays, one should remember it is neither simply ornamentation, nor does it have to be confrontational. Never should it be benign.

As a community builds its public art collection, it directly or indirectly establishes standards of excellence. When successful, the standards can enhance the financial investment. Poor standards produce unsuccessful projects that can disenfranchise residents and diminish communal credibility.
Our city’s public art policy specifies projects be of artistic excellence, enduring quality and appropriateness to site and be executed by a diverse selection of professional artists who are either local or from outside our region. We also have a set of mandatory and subject criteria.
Standards for mandatory criteria are straightforward and include craftsmanship, durability and safety. But subjective criteria are where the controversies arise. Advisory boards are bypassed, giving rise to a politicized process, media feasts and substandard art. Educated art advisors generally have a unified vision of what constitutes subjective criteria and evaluate public art within historically proven art standards. That is why municipalities enlist qualified advisors for public art selections as with most other municipal programs. When something sparks the public outcry, politicizing begins; then projects get dumped, homogenized and the strategic accumulation of a credible public art collection goes out the window.
Public art programs need to be strategically managed and should not be driven by reactionary approvals to unsolicited proposals. Not that unsolicited proposals are necessarily bad but absent of polices for such, this can be another environment that gives rise to a politicized process, media feasts and substandard art.
Great cities have great art. Is Sarasota among them? Well, it’s all subjective isn’t it?