The problem with public art

My first public art mural, Link, is complete. I think Link succeeds in creating an engaging visual experience. I had creative freedom and the chance to realize the my largest piece yet in a short period of time. The problem with public art, however, is what exactly is the point of doing a large exterior piece for a less-than-market-value stipend that some community members will love, some will hate and many will never notice? Here's my thinking:

1. Andersonville has long been a favorite neighborhood for me. Andersonville has always had an appealing cohesive urban aesthetic. It's the closest go-to place for those of us in the far north neighborhoods needing art galleries and interesting design shops and good scones. During my previous career in healthcare, I worked at nearby hospitals, first Ravenswood then Weiss in Uptown with a satellite clinic in Edgewater. Andersonville was an inviting destination for post-work happy hours and dinners out. I love the idea of being back in Andersonville to make art and contribute to well-being in a completely different way.

2. Andersonville has a longstanding commitment to creating inviting public spaces. The corner of Clark and Bryn Mawr features signature Andersonville wrought iron benches, a beautifully maintained concrete planter and lovely tile and concrete insets in the sidewalk. An art piece could extend this compelling public space along the span of the building.

5553 N Clark | planter

5553 N Clark | details of concrete insets in sidewalk

3. The masonry wall itself is lovely with smooth, uniform dark red brick. I am obsessed with connecting my work with industrial surfaces. While I love the symmetry and regularity of industrial surfaces, we also need variation and difference. In the natural world, we find the perfect balance of repetition and variation. Rather than treating the masonry wall as a canvas to be covered, I love the idea of the masonry wall being an element in the piece. Varying the repetition of brick and concrete, viewers can be re-connected with an overlooked surface in the streetscape. From either end, the painted lines virtually disappear against the brick.

Link | from east end

4. This is a busy pedestrian corridor and the majority of viewers will see the piece as they walk by the 35' span of the building. I am passionate about the power of glass to engage a viewer. Glass comes to life with light and movement. I could see a fantastic creative opportunity to create a compelling walk-by experience, offering coherent changes in form and intensity of painted elements animated by glass elements in lush shimmering color.

Link | detail | iridescent glass

5. The project budget was small and necessitated a mixed media concept that could be executed quickly. This is a difficult topic for public artists and I fall decidedly on the side of creative content being properly valued and artists paid at market value. Tim Kreider's recent opinion piece in the New York Times provides an excellent synthesis of this issue: Slaves of the Internet Unite. My decision to take on this project was a calculated gamble that realizing a 200SF art piece will lead to more opportunities. I developed a composition primarily for paint with a small number of glass elements floating in relief along the wall. This mixed media approach kept costs down while at the same time creating strong visual contrasts and bringing dimension to the piece.

Overall, my approach to public art is rooted in my understanding of cognition--humans thrive in engaging environments. I see public art as an opportunity to create moments of surprise and discovery. Living in urban landscapes requires new ways of seeing beauty and finding the variation we need to offset the predictability of the built environment. In the case of Link, coherent changes in form and intensity punctuated by shimmering glass elements across the 30′ span are intended to vary the repetition of the masonry. This hopefully creates an engaging walk-by experience, infusing pedestrian commutes with interest and meaning. Upon final analysis, I am delighted to have been able to make a tiny contribution to Andersonville's lovely urban landscape, maybe even helping others 'live well' in our urban world.

Link | 5553 N Clark, Chicago, IL

More images of Link