Setting a public primer on the community’s art

McMurray Musings Connects

By THERESA WELLS, Connect Columnist

In a vibrant community like Fort McMurray, it is only natural to see our equally vibrant arts and culture community continue to expand, explore new avenues and truly flourish as more and more people discover the tremendous benefits of the arts. Very recently, we have begun to see this blossoming taking place in the exploration of the concept of public art, and it seems a good time to develop some understanding of what public art is – and what it isn’t, too.

At the core public art is installed, not only for public enjoyment, but to enhance, promote and establish community identity. It can be murals or sculptures, performances or interactive installations, and it can be temporary or permanent.

At the core public art is installed, not only for public enjoyment, but to enhance, promote and establish community identity. It can be murals or sculptures, performances or interactive installations, and it can be temporary or permanent. It is designed for public enjoyment, but this does not mean it will always be without controversy, as not all art pieces will appeal to all people. There are some key components to the concept of public art, too.

Public art is public: This seems self-explanatory, but what is meant by this is that public art is accessible to everyone. There is no admission or fee to view it. This is why public art is often found in public gathering spaces like parks and along trails, as these areas lend themselves to that public accessibility.

Public art follows a process: Frequently public art is developed through an open call process where artists are invited to submit proposals of public art pieces. Usually these open calls include information on the project and the area for installation, as these can guide the artist in the concept of the piece and help to ensure their proposed piece will fit the context of the space. On occasion, artists may be asked to submit proposals based on certain themes, and usually there is budget component.

Public art is selected: In an open call scenario, there is normally a selection panel comprised of community members, including artists and other community representatives with certain areas of expertise that evaluate the proposals and select successful pieces based on certain criteria.

Ongoing maintenance: Public art might be completed when it is installed, but these pieces often require ongoing maintenance, including cleaning and ensuring the pieces do not pose any risk to public safety. A great example of public art in our own community, the recent igNIGHT temporary public art installations saw several pieces of art work installed throughout the downtown core in Fort McMurray.

For the second year, igNIGHT turned those early days of fall, when the sky turns dark much sooner in the day, into a celebration of light and energy, attracting hundreds of residents to enjoy the brightly lit temporary public art installations.

As an example of a source of confusion over public art in our community one need only turn to the controversial Weather Catcher located at Jubilee Plaza on Franklin, which has been decried as a “bad piece of public art,” when it is actually not a public art piece at all, but rather an architectural feature. Whether one hates it or loves it, the Weather Catcher is not public art and should not even be included in a discussion on the value of public art as it does not qualify in that genre at all.

Understanding the concept of public art is also key to developing a more knowledgeable enjoyment of it. While one can always enjoy the pieces on a purely aesthetic level, understanding the process and appreciating the amount of work and effort that goes into bringing public art to the community brings a new and enhanced appreciation of a vital part of a vibrant, energetic and flourishing arts and culture scene. Fort McMurray is really just starting to see the impact of public art, and it will be wonderful to watch this grow and develop over time, just as our understanding does.

– Connect Weekly –