Is That What Dallas Thinks is Public Art?

There have been a number of public art announcements over the past few weeks, the first of which is the choice of the three finalists for the Ross Ave. Gateway Project between Bryan Place and downtown’s Arts District. Surely to the ire of some local-or-nothing art supporters, the three finalists for the $112,913 commission are not from Dallas: Bill FitzGibbons (San Antonio), Koryn Rolstad (Seattle), and Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock (Tucson). Follow those links, and you can see the artists’ previous work, but I can’t track down any renderings or proposals for Ross Avenue. 

In addition, the Henderson Art Project has announced the latest winners of the social media popularity contest art competition that plops down sculptures alongside the narrow sidewalks on Henderson Ave. We have been critical of that project, but, nonetheless, it is popular in some circles, as evident by the fact that the city of Mesquite is now planning on creating a copycat project in that city. The language of the boosters should sound familiar: 

Arts Council Managing Director Mike Templeton says that the goal of the project is to support Mayor John Monaco’s focus on project renewal and revitalization of the city. The idea is to promote artful living in Mesquite while improving the city’s appearance.

As our critic wrote last year about Henderson, the impetus for these kinds of public art projects is beautification, often associated with a civic or business desire to boost the desirability of a given area. That’s why meaningless terms like “artful living” are thrown around. “Artful living” belongs to the same category of marketing slogans as “creative class.” These terms are merely used to speak politely about a certain economic demographic that spurs along positive development.

Now, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with targeting this demographic or trying to create a neighborhood that attracts culturally-interested, college-educated folk. People build things and sell things, and they need language and advertising to make their projects attractive.

I’m bringing all this up, rather, not to talk about the motivations of civic and real estate boosters who embrace these kinds of public art projects, but to draw attention to how our city – and specifically the Office of Cultural Affairs – understands the function of public art.

The problem with projects like Henderson (as we went into detail last year) is that, to borrow a phrase from Joan Davidow, the work included is almost necessarily “plop art.” They are works that are taken from the studio and stuck in a space, often with no relation to the setting in which they are placed. Davidow used the phrase to talk about the goofy, dancing, multi-colored steel kids that are now frozen in their perpetual frolicking on downtrodden Singleton Blvd. that is soon to be overrun with real estate speculators.

Without getting into the specifics of the quality of work on Henderson, the very design of the project – its curation through public voting online by viewing images of individual works, and then assigning “winners” a street corner – not only forces out the ability of an artist to really consider the relationship between the work and space, to create public work that exists and functions in relation to its public context, but this curatorial approach necessarily drives away from the project artists who do possess a sensitivity to the way the context within which a work exists participates in the piece’s meaning. 

For example, no matter what the creator of the fire engine red swirling steel sculpture, “Prairie Fire,” intended the viewer to feel, experience, or reflect upon when seeing the work while traveling down Henderson, the piece sits in front of an apartment complex, and like a hood ornament, it participates – even if unconsciously – in the branding of that complex. It makes me think of a quote from artist and SMU art professor Michael Corris, who recently spoke at The Reading Room, challenging artists to avoid the “risk becoming the courtiers of cultural interests eager to hijack our voice.” The Henderson Art Project creates a context for just such a hijacking. 

But Henderson points to deeper issues in the way our city understands the role of public art. Looking for renderings of the proposed projects for the Ross Ave. Gateway, I stumbled across the Office of Cultural Affairs’ definition of public art. From the website: 

Public Art distinguishes the city as a vibrant cultural environment that celebrates the diversity and creative energy of its community. Public art programs, supported by the City, help define a community’s identity and reveal the unique character of neighborhoods. It is a true symbol of a city’s status and maturity, expressing neighborhood pride, positive values, and enhancing the city’s assets. Public art helps green spaces flourish, enhances roadsides, pedestrian corridors, and community parks. A city with public art values and invests in its diversity, identity, and future.

At first reading, this explanation seems well and good, but let’s look closely at what it implies. This definition assigns a function to public art: it is a decoration or an advertisement of ourselves, our “character.” Public art, according to the city, is a “symbol” that communicates our “status.” It is also supposed to communicate our maturity, but if art is reduced to a symbol communicating status, how can it be considered mature? Here the Henderson Art Project – as well as many of the city’s own public art initiatives – fits the criteria for the Office of Cultural Affair’s public art vision: it communicates the status of a district, and its patrons, restaurants, and retail offerings by associating those entities with a commitment to art.  

So what, then, is public art if not a means to which communicate values to the community at large? Isn’t that the role public monuments have served since the Egyptians erected obelisks or the Romans build their sculpted arches? Certainly, the communication of status has always been a function of public art, but is it the primary function? How can it be called “art” when its role is admittedly this purely superficial one? 

For an answer, let’s look to Creative Time. In the forward to Creative Time: the book: 33 years of public art in New York City, Anne Pasternak writes about the value of public art, which has rapidly distinguished itself in the last few decades from “sculptures of heroes on horseback:”

“[Public art] elevates everyday experiences for more people, in more places, more often. . . . It fulfills our conviction that art has an important role to play in daily life and in shaping society. It sets in motion surprising, intimate moments of awe and reflection, challenging us to think anew about our surroundings. The dynamism and unpredictability of the public sphere can be a rich place to experience and share art. I provides an exciting alternative to the hermenticism and elitism of art institutions by bringing art outside, where anybody is free to experience it—and thus beyond traditional limitations of class, race, and education. Public art speaks to people as citizens in ways that are more considered, deep, and more varied than consumeristic messaging, the dominant form of communication in urban public life. Fundamentally, public art is a demonstration of the democratic belief that public spaces must be activated as sites for citizens to be themselves and to express their views, even when those views go against popularly accepted conventions. Public art is democracy in action.”

We must demand high standards of art in the public sphere – art that speaks strongly, that understands its place, that considers its audience (not an abstract audience, but the audience that will experience the art – and how), that is provocative and profound and that is unencumbered by marketing or consumeristic messages, whether that be to promote a business, a developer, a neighborhood, an artist, or even just to promote a sentimental feeling about how we think about ourselves. When we do this we truly consider the man on the street and respect his or her dignity. This kind of public art respects the everyday experience of space, and it protects shared space from being co-opted for the benefit of profit or ego. 

The civic body charged with the commissioning of public art – the Office of Cultural Affairs – needs to share this view of the function of public art, and this function needs to be explicit in the way the city speaks about and promotes its public projects. We need a civic office that understands that from Millennium Park to Bryant Park and throughout the world where groups and artists like Creative Time have supported inspired projects, challenging work has demonstrated that it can be accessible, and more importantly, elevating to everyone — from the homeless person to the businessperson. If it doesn’t, if the language which articulates the office’s function is subpar, then we can hardly expect the projects that follow not to be.

Demanding these standards is to ask artists to take their power seriously and to take Michael Corris’s warning seriously. Artists: do not let your voices be hijacked. And we the public should not let the city’s cultural office hijack our ability to commission meaningful and profound works of public art.

Comments

  • Leila Grothe

    Here here, Peter!

    What is most problematic in our city’s definition of public art is the absent mention of people. Without engagement, what is the point?

  • You can’t track down any renderings or proposals for Ross Avenue because they don’t exist yet. The public meeting to view them will be held at 6:30 p.m. April 14 at the Latino Cultural Center. Please come!

  • Nicely written and well thought out piece Pete. While I agree wholeheartedly, the “plop art” often brands the structure to which it is placed adjacent as well as the neighborhood they co-habitate, a greater concern I have is with the selection process. According to the City of Dallas Public Art Program, the selection process should follow these guidelines:

    “A public call for artists is issued through the Office of Cultural Affairs and a panel is assembled to review the submitted artist proposals. The panel is comprised of representatives from the neighborhood in which the artwork will be located, artists or design professionals, the project architect or engineer, the City of Dallas project manager and Public Art department staff. After a two-stage review process, the panel forwards recommendations for review to the Public Art Committee. Public Art Committee members, who are arts professionals, artists, architects or engineers, review the selection panel suggestion and forward their recommendation to the Cultural Affairs Commission. The Cultural Affairs Commission members review the recommendation.”

    Because of the nature of this particular projects:
    “The proposal will also be reviewed by a team from TXDOT to ensure that the project meets the requirements for street safety.”

    The way the City approaches this procedure inherently takes the public’s opinions and concerns almost entirely out of the process. This is earmarked bond money–money for the Public–and therefore the identities of the selecting people and the entire content of the submissions should be made completely public.

    I subscribe to tons of newsletters and keep up to date on many blogs and through social networking. But I only happened upon the Ross Ave Gateway Project literally just 6 days before the Requests For Qualifications deadline February 2nd and only because I actively went to the Public Art Program’s site for another reason. I quickly shared this my list of 750+ Facebook friends I group as “Art Dorks” (artists, teachers, gallerists, et al) and was surprised not one other person seemed to know about it.

    Why wasn’t a nice “Future Site of a City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs Public Art Program Installation” sign put at the location with instructions to go online for proposal submission information? Why was there no publicity in the media about this? The last Press Release showing on the PAP website is dated July 6, 2010, and the last “In the News” post is dated October 27th (neither posts related), and because the Requests For Qualifications is no longer active, there is no mention of the Ross Ave Gateway Project anywhere on the site now (Google “ross site:dallasculture.org”)–not even the Public Meeting, April 14th shows up on any City or .org site I could find on the web.

    So with this Project, the public barely got notice of the project at all, and did not get to see any of the 41 proposals let alone offer any feedback to the selection panel. The 41 proposals were narrowed down to 3 finalists by a panel largely also unknown to the public. Now the public can see previous works by the finalists on their respective websites (and only imagine their respective visions for the Project location). The Public will not get to see renderings of the proposals until THE NIGHT BEFORE the Selection Committee submits their recommendation to the OCA and TXDOT (Why is TXDOT at the end of the selection process instead of the beginning?). Because the City is not actively promoting the Project or the Meeting, I’m not sure if the public will be allowed to offer feedback to the Selection Committee or even if the Committee will be in attendance.

    While opening up the process to allow for public debate and townee complaints like “We don’t need anymore red in this city” (or whatever), the Public Art Program’s definition “Public art contributes to the vibrant character and appearance of our city,” should allow for input from the very vibrant characters who live in the city whose residents voted to pay for it..

  • Although, I thoroughly enjoy the discussion and appreciate the Simek’s thoughtful critique, I wish it were a bit more informed. No one from D Magazine has talked to me about the purpose the Henderson Art Project and because Joan has an opinion about an artist’s work does not make it correct. That’s my humble opinion. My request is D Magazine take this discussion to their magazine where I have to believe the level of journalism is less assumptions,guessing and more accurate reporting.

  • Might help the discussion to see the quality work submitted for the 2011 Henderson Art Project. Visit the following link to see the 107 works of art submitted.
    http://hendersonartproject.com/Artist's_Entries_2011.html

  • To quote Julia Cameron from The Artists Way, as an artist “it is my job to do the work, not judge the work”. I will leave the judging to the critics, and that seems to be quite abundant here. I can also honestly say that I appreciate these venues such as Henderson Art Project, and the City, that are allowing me the opportunity to showcase my sculpture. If I am given any element of control over the placement of my sculpture, it is never “plopped”. It is very important to me how my sculpture is perceived and presented, and I carefully positioned and landscaped my piece on Henderson with the funds provided, as I would do an any project, public or private.

  • I’m sure the kids like the dancing sculptures.

  • KOnD

    Funny, I didn’t see D Magazine seeking out “higher standards” for their hatchet job in (re)creating the Dallas Nine. All they asked for was a high entry fee to be paid for by the artists in order to be thrown into the “worthy of consideration” category. Explain to me how this pay-for-play-esque bullshit ups the art community standards?

  • Great ideas are most often lost on the ordinary. Some examples would be Van Gogh, or better yet – the earths roundness. The earth is flat right?

    There is no difference here.

    If you take street and fill it with art– the problem would be what? That the usual artists commissioned to do public works are not used? That new artists get an opportunity? That social media was used? Doesn’t Saatchi gallery do
    the same thing? That the system was bucked and the arteratti were out of control?

    Honestly I have no clue what the major problem is?

  • Nancy wonders

    What a much needed and stimulating critical piece. At it’s essence is n’t art fundamentally the intersection of the invisible and inspirational with the visible and material. And at that intersection the whole (the art) is greAter than the sum of it’s parts! How then could that process be directed by anything other than creativity and her muses

  • Ryder

    Thanks for the article. Focusing on the distinctions that may (or may not) lead to great art in Dallas is necessary, even if it engenders a forum of disagreement. Success in the public art realm is difficult for numerous reasons, but taking a closer, critical look at the process and outcomes of various projects can greatly benefit the artists and the city.

  • Laray

    Thanks for putting this out there, Peter. I agree with Ryder. There may be something very valuable to learning how to mix it up, disagree, reflect and reject in the company of others. Our ability to learn to do this may be the key to our growth as an arts community. Frankly, If the goal is to brand© a destination and/or increase tourism, don’t involve the arts community—go with a PR firm and give serious consideration to more steers or mustangs or primary colored I-beams.

    The subject of public art is an interesting one, an especially true for public sculpture. It has a physicality that consumes space whether one invites it inside one’s cerebral catacombs or not.
    And in Dallas, this issue becomes infinitely more interesting because there is a pronounced predilection for realism as it concerns livestock. Or bronzed people as if they are engaged in doing things with us, excepting moving. (Like, moving out of the way.) I think that is why I like the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude so much. It is creative with the materials (no hard-edge metal as the dominant focus); installation involves a paid workforce with emphasis on the social processes of public art; and it is temporary. Last but not least, the sincere and rigorous study of a place, environment and idea for years and years before the culminating act. Nuanced, interactive, temporal.

  • Shelby

    Mr. Simek has clearly done some research in order to write this piece; however, he seems to have failed to inform himself as to the goal, purpose, and intent of the project by not talking to Scott Trent, the underwriters, or the artists. My understanding is that the art on Henderson was selected by a panel of judges who judged the submissions not only on artistic value, but also on their appropriateness for the venue. Moreover, the chosen pieces were consciously placed, rather than “plopped,” where it was determined, by those involved, would be the best placement. In addition, I would suggest that the artists who participated in the project probably do not feel that their voices have been “hijacked,” which Mr. Simek might know if he had spoken to any of them.

    Perhaps it is a matter of interpretation, but my reading of the quotations provided – one from the Office of Cultural Affairs and the other from Anne Pasternack – regarding the role and function of public art that Mr. Simek uses suggest precisely what the Henderson Art Project has achieved: art for the people. This is art created mostly, if not all, by local artists and placed in an East Dallas neighborhood for the appreciation and enjoyment of the people who live in, and visit, the area. Furthermore, given that we are speaking of public art/art for the people, I can see absolutely nothing wrong with the people having a vote for the “people’s choice award” through the means of social media.

    Furthermore, I would suggest that the Art on Henderson does precisely what Mr. Simek thinks public art should do, even if he doesn’t appreciate the art or the project. This is in fact “art that speaks strongly, that understands its place, that considers its audience (not an abstract audience, but the audience that will experience the art – and how), that is provocative and profound” that “truly consider[s] the man [and woman] on the street and respect[s] his or her dignity.”

    On a personal note, as a resident of the Lower Greenville area for over 20 years, I love regularly driving by and seeing the art on Henderson Avenue and am thrilled that Scott Trent and everyone else involved in the project had, not only the foresight, but also spent the time, energy, and resources to bring art to the residents of East Dallas.

  • John

    oh Shelby

    you’re such a tool

  • Having submitted to both the DART gateway project and the Ross Avenue gateway project getting to the top five for Dart possibly the top two we did not win either. But thats OK, its a numbers game right? I put together what I thought was the A-Team including myself. I still have at least a dozen or so really beautiful pieces on the drawing boards as a result of these two projects alone. I think the process of Public Art can be improved. Its funny that I now devote more of my time trying to understand the process of Public Art vs. actually building something, I cannot post images of what we proposed, because I want that to be something that given the right vehicle it may be implemented somewhere, someday, probably not in Dallas. At any rate I think what’s going on on Henderson Avenue is a good thing. There should be more of it. As far as the City of Dallas Public Art Program, well I’m not sure what the future holds. I did not submit this year to Henderson because my plates too full. I’m not giving up, but its easy to criticize and harder to actually design, craft and build something that is publicly pleasing and has artistic value to the community and builds knowledge about Art so that we all can enjoy it.

  • Here is a link to the the Public Art Walk Dallas site http://www.publicartwalkdallas.org/en/index.shtml It was created by the Business Council for the Arts (BCA) and focuses on a walking tour of public art found downtown. I think it is a rather eye opening experience as to the state of public art in Dallas.

  • Well, first of all, Thank you, Mr. Trent for making me aware of the situation at hand with this “ART” subject matter.
    I don’t mind being slammed against the wall by people that do not know me. I have never been a Man that would shy away from a fight, no matter what kind of fight or even with whom it may be with. I have raised myself, alone, in this unforgiving world, and for that plight, it has made me extremely hard, cold, and fearless, but with all that, a very “Fair’ man, indeed.
    Mr. Simek wants to talk trash about my work entitled “In The Park”, on Singleton Ave, calling that piece “Goofy”, amongst other derogates, as does Mrs. Joan Davidow, calling my piece “Uninspiring”, misplaced, and “Plopped”, whatever the hell that means.
    I spent my money, my equipment, my precious time, my engineering, mine, and my employees fabrication time of 63 days to build, my cranes, and most of all my charity, to make that piece possible for a neighborhood that had “Nothing” at all. I did not receive a single red cent from the land owners for the work that was placed. This is unlike the two of you that must be paid to do anything for anyone else.
    Mr.Simek, and Mrs. Davidow, don’t even know me, or anything about me, but yet I am persecuted for doing “Something”, for that neighborhood. Might I suggest that the two of you “Put your money where your mouth is”, and get to creating something “Positive’ in your lives, instead of dissing out all of the “Negativity” that you are so enthralled to do!
    I’ve always heard that when your explaining yourselves, as the two of you are, you’re already losing the battle. Everyone has an opinion lately, but it is those of us that are doing something, about nothing, that are making the difference, and bringing about the changes with our actions, and not words of despair and negativity.
    Seems to me that I’m the one getting the wrong end of this deal, but you know what, I’ll take the hits, and the slandering of my works because I am one of the very few putting large works out there for viewing, and I am so much stronger than the two of you put together. “Put up”, or “shut up”, before you rip apart the works of individuals that are working hard to find “Creativity”, and “Will”, to make a difference in life, during these extremely hard, and testing, economic times.
    So, if “Plopping”, is what you are calling placed Art nowadays, then I am going to “PLOP” everywhere I can, because even in the worst of times in this day and age, ‘Something Plopped’ is always better than “Nothing Plopped”, even if it does get criticized by lazy people like you.
    “Either Lead, Follow, or get the hell out of the way”. “Art”, is coming, whether you like it or Not!!!

  • Kay Kallos, Office of Cultural Affair Public Art

    Peter, thank you for encouraging more discussion about public art in Dallas. I wanted to clarify for some information about the Ross Avenue Underpass project for readers. The Request for Qualifications for this project was distributed to over 1,000 individuals in our public art list and it was also picked up by other arts-related sites, posted on the http://www.dallasculture.org website during the time the call for artists was open and information about the community meetings were posted in the East Dallas DMN blog. We’ve been working with the City DesignStudio to expand community engagement in the project, including the public meeting noted below as well as a project mailing to 500+ addresses in the neighborhood. TxDOT has been involved since the inception, as the site is their property and their input is essential to address issues of structural integrity of the bridge. We had 41 artists, from the US and abroad, submit their qualifications and, working with a community selection committee, we’ve invited three artists to develop and present proposals for the site.
    The artists’ proposals will be presented at the April 14 community meeting (6:30 pm @ the nearby Latino Cultural Center). The first view of site-specific project proposals will be at that meeting. Those in attendance will be provided with comment cards for the selection committee. All comments will be considered during the selection process. We encourage neighbors and all interested in seeing public art continue to flourish in our city to attend — and sign-up for our public art list to receive new upcoming Requests For Qualifications at:
    http://www.patronmail.com/pmailweb/PatronSetup?oid=1438.
    Let’s keep this dialog about public art going – it’s truly a community asset with plenty of opportunities to grow!

  • Ms. Kallos, (the Public Art Manager) copied her comments from her response to my email to her about the transparency of the Public Art Program.

    Downtown Dallas Inc boasts 52,000 residents including 5,000 in the Central Business District alone. Mailing an announcement to 500 of these residents and emailing 1,000 doesn’t seem like much promotion. I haven’t been able to find any art-related sites that posted the Call for Artists or any media that did–not D Magazine, DMN, Art & Seek, Pegasus, or Observer. The Bryan Place Neighborhood Association (whose leaders are on the Panel) knew about the Project at least as far back as September, but didn’t referred to to the Project in it’s December newsletter, and didn’t share submission details until its January newsletter (whenever that actually came out).

    If anyone else published the Call to Artists, they unanimously removed the posting, or I can’t find it. Even ArtHash which has published 100’s of calls to artists locally and around the world including previous Public Art Program projects for some reason skipped this one…

    Seems obvious why the HAP had so many more applicants when only 41 people applied for the $112,000 grant from the City of Dallas.

  • Sorry, that should read “until its December newsletter” http://www.bryanplace.org/news/dec-2010/

  • Shelby,
    I think you’re awesome.
    Great comments!

  • Phillip E.Collins

    Peter (and all commenter’s!), Thank you for bringing attention to public art and engaging in this discussion. This is a great opportunity to clarify the distinction between the City of Dallas’ Public Art Program and other public art efforts (both independent and institutional) in the City.
    First some information about the Ross Ave Underpass:
    • Site-specific project proposals will be presented on April 14 at 6:30 at the Latino Cultural Center 2600 Live Oak Street
    • This will be the first viewing of the proposals.
    • Community members will be reminded about the meeting two weeks prior to the date by postcard mailing, thanks to the assistance of the Dallas Design Studio. An email blast will be issued from the Office of Cultural Affairs.
    • Information about the April 14 meeting was published in the Dallas Morning News in March.
    • Community members will be invited to ask questions and provide the selection committee with written comments.

    Projects commissioned by the City of Dallas Public Art Program, such as the recently dedicated Kidd 24/7 at Kidd Springs Park, involve citizens in all levels of the selection process. There was considerable community input into this project and the manner in which the artist, Anitra Blayton, synthesized the community’s discussion transcends any single comment, resulting in a work that is engaging for everyone in the community. The work, located at the entrance to Kidd Springs Park, invites participation and the children and adults who attended the dedication lingered for over an hour to find all the elements that are part of the ‘treasure hunt,’ created by the artist using twenty-four things that can be found at Kidd Springs Park at any time of the day during the week.
    City of Dallas has also been the beneficiary of many donations of art over the years, including the Cancer Survivor’s Memorial you depict on the top of the article (given by the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation as part of its national program of cancer survivors parks). The other image, Traveling Man was commissioned by DART and is not a part of the City of Dallas’ collection-although it was recognized by the American’s for the Arts Public Art Year in Review last year.

    The Public Art Committee, composed of citizen volunteers, has recently reviewed the City’s Cultural Policy to look for ways to increase public participation. Ross Ave Underpass’ dual community meetings are an example of the expansion of opportunities for the public to participate especially since we were able to have support from the Dallas DesignStudio for this project.
    Public Art commissioned by the City includes the consideration of the audience who will experience it and the environment in which it will be experienced. New public art commissions are focused on the locations where they will be sited and artists are provided with information about the communities near the locations. This information is articulated in the Call for Artists. For example the Ross Ave Underpass stated:
    The Ross Ave Gateway is located at the threshold to the Dallas Arts District and serves as a key access point between the Arts District and the vibrant community of East Dallas.

    • The project must provide a visually welcoming environment for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
    • The final project must encourage pedestrian and cyclist usage of the space by creating a sense of safety. The final artwork should use materials and methods reflecting best sustainable practices.
    • The design must include energy efficient lighting features to create a safe environment.
    • The inclusion of elements that reflect the robust cultural environment of the Arts District and/or historical references to the City of Dallas is encouraged.
    • The proposal will also be reviewed by a team from the Texas Department of Transportation to ensure that the project meets the requirements for street safety and the use agreement for the location.
    • Safety considerations prohibit the use of all red or all blue light, flashing lights or any element that could distract or interfere with drivers through the space.
    • Any design element that would inhibit drivers’ sight lines or create hazards as determined by TXDOT will not be accepted.

    Additionally the Cultural Policy for the City of Dallas states that, “artists will be selected on the basis of their qualifications as demonstrated by past work, appropriateness of the proposal to the particular project, its probability of successful completion, and practicality of long-term maintenance.” A relationship between the artist and the location is investigated and most restrictions are related to safety and maintenance. Artists are encouraged to learn about the community and its history, but they are not directed to produce specific monuments or points of view.
    Clearly the upcoming symposium on this topic will be a welcome opportunity to further the discussion about the numerous manifestations of public art in Dallas. The parameters for public art will continue to evolve in Dallas through this discussion. I know the members of the Public Art Committee welcome this dialog.

    Phillip E. Collins
    Chair, Public Art Committee
    Cultural Affairs Commission
    At Large

  • Hello everyone! Peter, you sound like quite the snob. You would easily compose an article glorifying certain projects or contributions so long as it is boosting the ever-inflated ego of the big museums, prominent art collectors, and the wealthy advertisers of D Magazine. You quote Joan Davidow as if she were a leading expert. Her expertise lies in raising money and rubbing noses with the same people that allow you to have a job.

    Of course you have no motivation to research and report on the benefits of a small time little neighborhood project like HAP. It wouldn’t serve the interests of D Magazine. What it does do is further elevate the Dallas elitists who believe that they have the right to say what is art, what is good art, what is bad art, bitch about this art, bitch about that art. It seems to me you really cater to the plastic people that have way too much power in Dallas as is.

    You should be ashamed of yourself for giving Joan yet another platform to insult an artist. She should be ashamed of herself and statements such as the ones she made should give everyone pause to consider what an elitist bitch she must be and how little she actually values the hard work of artists – whether she likes the art or not is of no value. Demeaning and demoralizing artists is so ridiculously unprofessional and does not lend itself to any meaningful conversation or dialogue about art.

    In this business there is no shortage of opinions. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you approved of the placement of HAP art, approved of the art itself, approved of the jury process and public voting. The fact is, HAP is proving to be a very effective platform and model. HAP is only gaining with strength in numbers, the communities support which goes well beyond the Henderson area borders, and a growing number of artists that will foster it’s continued success. Giving artists a platform to gain more exposure while giving a neighborhood a make over and encouraging other communities to do the same is a really great thing. It would be nice to hear more about how HAP has had a tremendous positive effect – not all this whining about what words are used, about not liking all of the art or its placement, and least of all how a huge jury of art professionals and the proliferation of social media was used to choose HAP winners. The entire HAP process is extremely transparent and it seems very inappropriate to question it along side TX Dot and Dallas Cultural Affairs projects that have left many artists who have participated extremely dissatisfied that they did so. Such is not the case with HAP. I think the artists should be at the forefront of this conversation. Maybe an article unveiling their experiences with various public art projects would be more beneficial and enlightening.

  • Phillip, thanks for chiming in. I wondered if Peter even knows you. Seems like he shoulda talked with you. Kay Kallos said guests would be given comment cards, but you said we could ask questions so we’ll see what happens.

    Audra, well said. I like Nic’s sculptures.

  • Enjoy your time while it lasts, public art! As soon as we finish with NPR, we’re coming for you! Haw haw haw haw haw!

  • louie

    Was that Wick I saw on Henderson, on a date with one of his daughters?

  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, ” We must never forget, Art is not a form of propaganda, it is a form of truth.”

    Who knows whether the paleolithic French cave paintings were commisssioned by some neanderthal? The truth is that almost from the beginning of time, art has been tied to politics in some form or fashion. What we see with public art is often the worst of that- art by committee, which is the apotheosis of politics. All organizations have a political bias/agenda that must be served. It is why they exist.

    Artists, too, have agendas. They do not work in isolation. An artist’s voice is his work and it may speak for one or many. When an artist’s work serves the purpose of an organization, a deal is struck and a symbiotic relationship is forged. This relationship lasts as long as it meets the needs of both entities.

    By definition, art, even when truthful, is propaganda. Public art is simply select propaganda in a larger forum. What is most disconcerting to me is the pretense otherwise. Caught up in obfuscating rhetoric, critical analysis and pointless debate, the purpose of art is lost.

    Art , the result of man’s universal desire for expression, has a completely subjective, personal and political agenda. So does its use.

  • Marvelous discussion about a project with which I am proud to be associated. Makes me wanna go drive down Henderson just to check it out. Touche to Trent et al & viva l’art!

  • Jan Ayers

    It’s always such an education to read and listen to Dallas arts conversations! The snotty versus the pissed-off. Who wins? In this case, it’s the public. Yes, I have been involved in HAP. No, I do not like all the sculpture that was chosen. Guess what? It doesn’ t matter. Real art is happening, local artists are getting their work out there, and- best of all- the merchants and artists who will live and work around these pieces get to vote on them. And if a piece makes it that I don’t personally like, guess what? In two years it goes away!
    I’m off to make some art, in the sky-high hope of getting plopped somewhere someday.

  • albert omaha

    Think I’ve heard or read of ‘plop art’ almost as long as ‘Jack the Dripper’, so Ms. Davidow shouldn’t get any credit (or blame) for that critical remark (she should be credited, or blamed, for a host of other easily criticized activities . . . but that’s some other stories).

    Then there’s the comment that, ” If we had decent architecture we wouldn’t need public art!”. Easier to state than defend.

    My experience with HAP has been, despite the fact I’m not a ‘winner’, yet,that it has been the most positive, transparent, engaging and educational competition I’ve ever been involved in. Can’t say enough about the process or Scott Trent’s work and concept. It’s a model for any neighborhood to aspire.

    It’s so easy to criticize and I personally don’t care for the bulk of the Henderson work on display, but like the previous caller said, it’ll be gone soon. Unless some monied art lover buys it and plops the revolting chunk right next door to your house.

    Ask me about some fantastic man-sized cast concrete corny dogs my neighbor cross the street claimed was ruining his business. . .Everyone’s a critic.

    Super fantastic that this Henderson Art Project exists!