There is beautiful public art. There is hideous public art. There is interesting public art. There is boring public art. Granted, I know nothing about art, but I know when I like something.
A community’s public art sends an important message. It speaks about the inclusiveness, attitudes, history, priorities, and creativity in a community. It gives people a sense of place and pride in their neighbourhoods. It can bring people together, or make them consider important issues. It can remind people of the past, or inspire them to think about the future. It can even change community dynamics.
One of my very favourite pieces of public art (which I have never seen but heard of often) is the Fremont Troll in Seattle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fremont_Troll. I’d put a photo up, but I don’t own one, so here’s a link. The story goes something like this: One particular bridge and area of town was becoming a hotspot for crime and graffiti. People were afraid to visit there. Local artists won some grant money to build a giant troll. There was some hesitation about whether this would work or become a public disgrace. However, it became a wildly popular tourist destination, people started to care for the area, and a whole history and culture was built around it, with scheduled events and community parties. THAT is what art should be.
Some of the public art in my community has been controversial (but not because the proposals are anything as interesting as a troll under a bridge). One of the more recent installments was this red thing. If you’re looking at that, and saying “Hey, what’s that giant ugly piece of rusty metal doing in the town square?” then you’re in plentiful company. “Is that some sort of broken rusty old bell?” Yes, that is what it is. I haven’t heard of anyone, not a single person, who actually likes it. Not entirely sure who approved this and why in the end. I just know we’re stuck with it.
On the other hand, I kind of like this one (also in my community):
It’s hard to tell from the picture, but this canoe sits in undulating ripples of turf. That’s neat. It’s playful, it’s creative and it incorporates more natural elements (and I am perhaps a little biased towards things canoe-related). Kids are always climbing on and around it and the “waves.”
Yes, art is subject to personal taste, and there’s no way you’re going to please everyone. But, a community has to ask what purpose it is going to serve?
In the city where I grew up, there was an appallingly hideous sculpture called “Pollution.” Here’s a link. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-JsfyMAapbBg/UVmBBpqa9ZI/AAAAAAAABvQ/46G85e4jqOI/s1600/DSC03655.JPG
Interestingly though, my sister and I loved to run around, through and on this sculpture. It was a destination. There was something interactive about it. As ugly as it is, it was serving a purpose.
So there’s a new proposal in my community to create a statue park of 22 prime ministers (that’s all of them) in a large central park. Now, I’m not opposed to it entirely. I like statues. I like art. I’d rather there be something than nothing. I just think there could be so many more interesting things to do there (and spend money on)! What about a park full of interactive sculptures by local artists that would engage children? There could be things to climb, tunnels, and places to look through. There could be storybook characters, and mythical beasts. There are so many possibilities. Just Google “fun public art” for some inspiration. Or here, let me Google that for you:
I mean, who wouldn’t love this one? http://thingsninamightlike.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/pin.jpg
A statue park of 22 prime ministers would make sense on parliament hill. Not so much here.
We have spent enough time building our community around sophisticated adult tastes and have lost any sense of fun. Meanwhile, children are sequestered in their schoolyards and playgrounds. Why not bring the fun right into our community?
Just my two cents.