The Art and Planning sessions at the 19th International Sculpture Conference ranged widely over the general and the specific questions facing art and artists in public spaces today. The dialogue published here begins with Pittsburgh and its rivers (a discussion that took place on board a riverboat) and continues with a broader discussion of public art policy, planning, and theory (drawn from a roundtable discussion held the next day). There were many questions and suggestions regarding specific programs and legislation, and generous advice from many of the participants regarding public art in Pittsburgh and other cities. Some of the most valuable aspects of the dialogue for all those present were in the personal contacts and the advice on specific technical and legal questions. Reproduced here are excerpts of the more general comments from both meetings, broadly applicable as strategies and approaches to the questions of public space in the 21st Century.
Carol Brown: In 1911, the Olmsted brothers proposed a series of parks along the edge of the city of Pittsburgh stretching down the Allegheny River, going around the Point and up the Monongahela River, and those plans lay dormant until the early 1980s, when the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust proposed the construction of a riverfront park along the edge of the cultural district. There were plans for the development of both architectural sites and plazas in the cultural district. For the riverfront parks, we tried to follow a collaborative design process, inviteing teams of artists and architects to come in and make proposals for our park. The upper level of the park was begun in 1983 and the lower level was built in 1998, designed by Michael Van Valkenberg and Ann Hamilton, who worked together on the design of a two tiered park. The lower level runs from 6th to 9th Streets, and above there is an additional level that extends along Fort Duchesne Boulevard. The lower level was designed to be ecologically and environmentally exciting. It's a very natural design, planted with trees, wild flowers, and vines that are indigenous to the river banks in Western Pennsylvania. It has already withstood two series of floods along the Allegheny, and the plant materials are thriving. It has also given the people of Pittsburgh the opportunity to experience the plants that are indigenous to their river banks. The upper level is much more urbane in feeling; it meets the edge or city where we have a clear geometry. It is a much more sophisticated and planned and stylized park.
Malcolm Miles: Flying into Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon, in a small plane that wasn't high up, was interesting. It gave me a close view of the landscape, including what seemed like acre upon acre of industrial devastation—empty, broken-down factories and marshalling yards. One response to that would be to say, "Oh dear, what a pity, it's all gone and what do we do next." Another is to find those spaces exciting and interesting. Some are very engaging in formal terms. A third response is the greening of the site: the riverbank becomes part of the natural ecology again. But I think there is a fourth possibility, a question I want to throw in as an agenda item, something that might frame part of the discussion. It is an intentionally naive question, "Who writes the story of the river?" It's a question with a number of different levels. Story means history, it means the future, it means the present. It means things like, "How do people find meaning in spaces, how do they make their own associations of memory, desire, and so forth." How does all that unspoken, invisible history get into not exactly the official story but at least the visible story of the new waterfront in Pittsburgh? We tend to think of places as defined from positions of power, that is from above through planning, but maybe citizens have their own powers and their own kinds of knowledge, too, though it's not simple. The way that, for example, through things like community-based arts, we've tended to think of publics or communities as place-based, as geographically bounded is no longer viable. People who live in remote locations are wired, and they talk to people in Los Angeles and Tokyo within 10 seconds of each other. Communication is globalized at the everyday level as well as at the level of capital. That problematizes the notion of community, and the question of who writes the story. But it doesn't do so in a way that's difficult to approach if we start to listen, if we identify individual citizens, citizen groups, people who have some link, some commonality of concern. Maybe what we are looking at is communities of interest, communities of some perhaps quite specific commonality that they understand and that's enough. The next step is to see how that becomes part of the democratic process of decision-making and planning that reshapes the city for tomorrow. Who writes the story is a more important question than what the story is. Because what the story is depends on who writes it.
Susan Golumb: We are continuing to develop guidelines for the river, for public space, and for spaces on the river that will have art. There are two approval processes that have to happen. There's the Art Commission that approves all art in public spaces in Pittsburgh. And for the North Shore development there is also a North Shore Art Committee. There are two schools of thought, whether we will step back development to create more natural edge or create an urban edge to the rivers. There are also parks along the river, such as the North Shore Park, where there are currently four sculptures. This park was done as part of a development, not as part of an overall riverfront park. There are works by Ned Smythe, George Sugarman, Dan Ires (sp)? and Isaac Witkin.
Lisa Schroeder: The Riverlife Task Force is trying to bring together as many elements of the community as possible to look at Pittsburgh's rivers for the first time in a hundred years as the central thread of the public realm here. The industrial nature of the previous activity along the rivers and the water quality prevented the public from using the rivers at all. Consequently, the city has developed over time in a way that severs the urban grid and the connection of neighborhoods to the river. So we're trying to turn the equation inside out and look at the rivers as the central water sheet and the edges as an opportunity for a continuous public realm.
When the Riverlife Task Force was first formed, we had about 150 public meetings and convened a public brainstorm. One of the things that we discovered is that there is a pressing need in Pittsburgh for open, flat, green space. Point State Park is under tremendous pressure because it is in fact the only open flat space where people can gather. So we have worked with the architectural firm EDAW and the city to pull the street grid back from the edge of the river in order to create a "great lawn," which will be terraced so that there is flat space, so you can throw a ball, have a picnic, or have a toddler walk without rolling into the river. Right now we are looking at Point State Park, in terms of the purposes that it serves and the many layers of history that we want to honor there. The Point was the piece of land that mankind has wanted to defend and occupy in this territory. Pittsburghers have also traditionally looked at the Point as the end of downtown.
One of the critical moments for us in working with our design team at the Riverlife Task Force was a challenge to look west, to consider the Point and the confluence of the rivers, the river edges, and the river itself beyond the Point, down to the West End bridge, and to consider ways in which we might experience the power of the confluence, the geography and the topography that we all carry in our heads as being distinctive of this place but that we rarely have a way to experience.
Tim Collins: We've been talking about the architectonic edges of our rivers. As artists, are we only to consider the edges, or can we have an aesthetic relationship with the rivers themselves, can we be participants in the change from the use of rivers as an industrial sink for our waste or as the transport infrastructure? My question is how do artists start to create interface, how do artists start to create discourse, how do artists start to provide opportunities that bring us back to the water and give us some meaningful points of engagement? We're seeing an incredible ecological restoration; nature little by little starts to restore itself. I always say that in Pittsburgh we suffer from panoramic myopia. We see the river from the hills and the bridges-but what we see is what we remember. And damn it, the highpoint of steel production was 1928. It's time to get over that story and find a new story. It's time for a living river story, not a river in service to industry. Artists can help us find a new vision of the rivers.
We were a steel town. Today we celebrate steel but ignore the two tons of slag dumped on our landscape for every ton of steel produced. Our projects, Nine Mile Run and 3 Rivers/2nd Nature, address the meaning, form, and function of the natural ecosystems and public spaces which attend our postindustrial properties and waterways in Allegheny County. We work to create strategic information that shifts the way people think, then provide experiences on the rivers and a platform for dialogue. Our goal is cultural and process-oriented, often informed by historical analysis. We focus on the interface between public and private, nature and culture.
Kirk Savage: One monument along the river that was just dedicated in April was explicitly meant to celebrate the lives of the steelworkers who worked in the old Jones and Laughlin plant, one of the oldest steel mills in the region. The design by James O'Toole, selected in a design competition, doesn't include any figurative sculpture at all, no images of steelworkers or heroic images of labor. It's an abstract, architectural solution, made of steel. It is meant to evoke elements of the old steel mill. He called it a "ghost mill." The central motif is a large ladle, to represent the ladle where the molten steel was poured inside the mill. The central metaphor is that the sculpture becomes a rainwater collector; instead of molten steel passing through the ladle, it's rainwater that is collected in a concrete pool. It's intended to be recirculated in a fountain, eventually. It's a healing metaphor, the danger and heat of the molten steel is replaced by natural rainwater flow, in a place where people can reflect in a playful way on the history and the lives of the people who worked at the site.
Golumb: That project was funded by the public art fund created from a one percent set-aside program that is part of all city capital projects.
Jeff Nathanson: Even though Pittsburgh has incredible public art, there are some concerns about how that program can move forward and can learn from the successes and mistakes of other cities around the country.
Golumb: We have a public art commission that was put in place about 1977, but it was not very active until recently. Our public art commission only reviews art in city-owned public spaces and city-owned properties or public right-of-ways. I wonder what other cities are doing to expand that role to look at art that might be done in conjunction with private development.
Cynthia Gould Brown: One of the first things I did when I came to King County in 1999 (Seattle, Washington) was report on public-private development. There are probably 33 cities around the United States, as well as Vancouver, British Columbia, that expand their public art ordinance into private development. California and Arizona tend to be leaders in that. I think it's interesting that new communities that want to create a sense of place are asking for a way to include art in building their infrastructure. One of the main trends seems to be that it has to be part of their building permit requirements. Before they can get their building permits they have to include public art or dedicate the money into an endowment that the cultural organizations can use. What I gathered from my research is that the business community has to buy in and believe that incorporating art in public spaces is going to add value to the community. Then they'll ask other businesses to do that.
Collins: Our largest developments are actually operating with municipal funding, through the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Agency. How do we get our local ordinance to be effective with that sort of program? I'm assuming that there are other urban redevelopment agencies in other cities in America. How have other municipalities been able to capture funds for art projects from municipal monies used to promote development?
Lockwood Hale: There's proposed legislation for public art in Pittsburgh that covers all the departments, including the water and sewer authority, but the legal department has told us that it probably is not legal. So we're thinking about how to approach that.
Reneé Tanner: One of the things you may need to do is open up your ordinance and compare it to other ordinances and how other programs accrue percent for art.. That impetus usually comes from art proponents (like commissioners), itmay be legislative changes that government departments are reluctiant to do without community/constituent support.. You have to go after it, look at the ordinance, get legal advice, and look at what other people are doing. Find how it worked in one city, or how it didn't work, and change yours. Then the money comes directly to the art program, and you decide how to spend it, where to spend it, and how to select artists. Then the law is on your side, and your government partners will go along with it.
Alice Snyder: Philadelphia has percent for art through its urban redevelopment authority, and it has been extremely active. The mechanism there is beautiful, as far as getting things done. I would recommend that Pitttsburgh look at what Philadelphia has done.
Marsha Moss: The City of Philadelphia Public Art Program also has guidelines that could be helpful as well. There is also a new percent for art program that draws on federal money, the SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) program. That is a huge new initiative that will have 18 new projects in the next six years.
Nathanson: People have asked us where to go to have discussions on these topics, and we get a lot of pertinent information at the ISC offices. The Cambridge Arts Council has announced a conference on conservation and maintenance of contemporary public art, in October. There was also recently a public art forum sponsored by the Midamerica Arts Alliance in May in Kansas City. Is there a network for information on public art that exchanges information on meetings like those?
Tanner: (Americans for the Arts) has a public art pre-conference before their July conference, and they sponsor the Public Art Network (PAN), which artists and organizations can join. They have a new website and a listserve.
Cheryl Thiele: Public-private partnerships have been mentioned. First of all, I'm an art consultant, so I don't represent the municipalities. California, particularly Southern California, is going through an enormous growth surge. The powers that be put the public art projects in place. The private sector is required to spend a percent of construction over a million dollars on public art (the municipality is not-if the city builds a new building, it is absolved from the percent for art charge). So far, my experience has been positive—developers might be resistant at first, even resentful about being expected to spend $50, $75, $100 thousand. Afterwards, almost always, they embrace the art, they embrace the sculptor, and the community becomes involved. There is almost always a positive outcome, providing, of course, that the sculptors do what they say they are going to do and all the details are in place. There are always unforseen things that can happen, delays and so forth, but all of my experiences have been very positive. On the question of maintenance, the ownership of the sculpture is retained by the development (for the project I'm working on), it's not owned by the municipality.
Maintenance provisions need to be written into the contracts. Sometimes there is resistance to that, and there are issues like sale signs in front of the sculpture, and who is responsible for the removal of graffiti. Part of the process is that as a consultant I stay involved after the installation.
Mary Navarro: The majority of the public art in Pittsburgh has been privately funded. When you have a public sector that perhaps isn't as active as other communities, how can you engage the public sector to be the leader and to perhaps urge on the private sector? The private funders and developers are getting a little fatigued at this point, and we need to look to a more active public sector. How can we do that in an environment where we have a very tight city budget, and art hasn't been a high priority in the public sector?
Jack Becker: Minneapolis has a similar problem in that the private sector leads the way in terms of public art. The city of Minneapolis has been in the back seat for a very good reason: the private sector is paying the bill—the artists and the arts organizations are benefitting, and the city has other priorities—and the city doesn't have the political will necessary for it to serve in any kind of leadership role, because the private sector pretty much has its way. Money talks in this field—whoever has the money usually makes the rules as to what kind of public art they want to sponsor and how they want to control it. Espcially in an area where private development is hard to attract, it's very hard to put any restrictions on private development that might make a city any less attractive to the private developer. It's only in cities like San Francisco and Phoenix and a few other places where development is hot that it's easier to place percent for art restrictions or some kind of buy-in for private developers. The key thing is developing public-private partnerships, and the key factor in doing that is to get in a room with all the stakeholders so that you can share information with each other instead of the public side talking about what it wants. The other side really isn't together at all. The private sector, the nonprofit sector, and the artists themselves are not organized in any fashion that makes it easy to determine who can answer these questions about potential partnerships, how could we form them, what are the needs and issues, and so forth.
One thing I wanted to mention, besides AfA and the PAN as resources: Forecast has a Web site and Public Art Review is expanding on-line. We hope that we will have a lot more information there for people to turn to for research. You can also post questions on the PAN listserv, and you can pose questions to professionals in the field. People will get back to you with examples of ordinance and contract language, insurance, you name it. That's proved to be an excellent central clearing house for information.
There is a program that we run in Minnesota, funded by the Jerome Foundation, that is designed to help emerging and mid-career artists to explore the public realm, and that means letting them go out into the community and begin dialogues and find out who they are interested in working with, and initiate enough dialogues that they find out what kind of public art they want to do. That is very different from the commisioning notion of, "We have a wall and we're looking for an artist to paint a mural on it." That's becoming an outmoded method of participating in public art. Artists working in public art are going in different directions. It's worthwhile to think of ways to incubate the industry of private, independent producers of public art in the community and say, "What do you want to do and where do you want to do it, and how can we support that?"
Miles: Your comment starts to problematize the discussion in an interesting way. For about 10 years now the division of public/private has been problematized by artists themselves. Read Patricia Phillips on Mierle Ukeles, for example, read Suzane Lacy's book Mapping the Terrain, Nina Felshin's But Is It Art? From that generation of writing onward I think we've seen that it is not only a difficult thing to make any clear differentiation between public and private space, but actually transgression of that boundary becomes a necessity, particularly from a feminist viewpoint. Work that goes backward and forward between the conventional notion of public space and the conventional notion of domestic space is itself quite radical and in a sense revolutionary, and that becomes a very interesting possibility. However, that's over there; in another place is the public/private partnership which is discussed increasingly, not least in Europe by governments themselves, in terms of urban development. What I think we're seeing there is the culturation of private space, which then becomes called public space. I think this is deeply worrying for anyone who wants to live in a democratic society where, as Jane Jacobs argued a long time ago, public space is a necessary ground of informal mixing of people from different backgrounds, gender, class, ethnicity, and so forth. You find what is called public space at the Sony Plaza in New York or Berlin, but it's actually corporate space disguised, masked as some sort of cultural event. It's very nice and you can sit and have your coffee . It might be pleasant in all sorts of ways, but it remains non-public space. Certain things are allowed, other things are not. It's a space under surveillance.
That raises the question of whether there is a possibility for an art that actually creates genuine, authentic public space. Tangentially, it's interesting to hear that there's going to be a conference on the maintenance and conservation of public art. Surely that's the final stage of institutionalization, isn't it? When something is over, you get it in the museum. When Modernism is no longer innovative, you have the Museum of Modern Art in the 1940s. Now every city has to have a museum of contemporary art, because that's not experimental anymore either. Now public art becomes this institutionalized thing that we have to conserve and maintain. Can't we just push some of it in the river sometimes (metaphorically, of course)?
Someone mentioned graffiti, which I don't in any way condone. It's nasty, messy stuff like litter. But it sometimes says things, like a voice for the voiceless. Occasionally it says something political, in Europe at least. If there is a question of what to do about graffiti on a sculpture, I'm not sure that cleaning it off is the only possible approach to that problem. Step back and ask why it gets put there in the first place, whose space is the art being deposited into? What alternatives there might be is then the next issue. There is a need in this context for the funding system to reappraise its role. Is it possible, as Jack Becker said, to get away from the notion of commissioning? That's going to go on anyway. It's not as if someone is going to pass an ordinance against artists being commissioned. And clearly money spent on art is infinitely better than money spent on star wars or all sorts of other things that it gets siphoned into, and artists need money like anyone else. But is it possible that the funding system in the public sector could take on a more radical role through a non-audit way of supporting experimental art practice? That is, against the usual model of, "Here's the money, you've got a year, produce something, and we can take pictures of it at the end," to say "Here's money for time to insert yourself into a situation, into the public realm." I wouldn't even say necessarily a community or a locality, those are highly problematic notions today. But there are a number of public issues, things people are concerned about, common interests to work with, publics that come to some common bonding through some particular aspect of their lives, and to take the necessary time to get acquainted, to find out what are the real questions, which are not one's own but the questions that come out of long-term listening to others. Ideas may come out of local people's suggestions, through informal conversations. In some of the possibilities, the emphasis is on what people do themselves, not on what the artist makes. The artist can be hands-off, but the project is a catalyst to recognition, visibility of local cultures, local patterns of association and conversation which are marginalized, which people always say don't matter—just like when people become unemployed: your industry doesn't matter any more so you can quietly fade into history. It's the act of recognition, and then handing it over, that becomes quite an interesting process.
Reiko Goto: Nine years ago when I moved here from San Francisco, I wanted to show students what kind of art existed in the city, which is what I used to do in California. But there were no places to show examples of contemporary art in public. And in public education, if you ask school teachers, "What is public art?" they really don't know. If something occurs in spaces that are already declared "public spaces," historical issues always come up. New art can't be accepted. I love Pittsburgh, but sometimes when new things come up, they get pushed back down. Those things make it hard for artists.
Cynthia Gould Brown: I'm curious about the art commission's relationship with your elected leaders. Our county council is a great champion of our program and our county executive speaks at every art dedication. He connects with the art community and takes a personal interest in the artists. He has been an amazing champion. Every year we are required to take a mandatory budget cut, however, through commission advocacy our cuts have been restoredto a greater percentage than any other agency in the county. We're a very popular program and we are very fortunate that our region supports the arts. What kind of relationships are you building with your political leaders? I'm curious if you are involving them, creating spaces for them to shine in showing off your public art? I think that the relationships you build with elected officials and their constituencies are very valuable.
In terms of the percent for art, in King County, we have opened our ordinance three times and are about ready to open it a fourth time to go after sewers and roads, because that's where the county is putting its resources. We want resources and access to those projects for the artists and then we can make a positive change in the environment. Our council members have been very supportive, even those from very rural and conservative communities. But we met with them one-on-one. We have constituents on our panels. We do presentations to communities, explain public art to them, show them slide shows--that's one of the most basic things you can do in increasing awareness about public art and get people excited. A simple slide show where you show them a manhole cover done by the city and a manhole cover done by an artist for the same cost. Show them a bridge done by the city and a bridge done with an artist on the design team. Show them plain terrazzo floors and a floor that is done by an artist. And elected officials and communitiesbegin to get it. .
Collins: We are a postindustrial region—in Kent, Washington, you had one of the first major public projects with artists like Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Morris, and Herbert Bayer working in a land reclamation program in the 1970s. In addition to the general politics of public art, can you tell us if there is any ongoing interest in artists working to reclaim postindustrial sites?
Tanner: That's huge, that's a new direction for us because of salmon recovery and Environmental Species Act regulations. But back to the question of where we can influence politics. How can public art agencies succeed without competing with private foundations who are buying and placing art in public spaces? Public agencies work through community. It's through voters, and those voters are people at community council meetings. Once community members begin to comprehend the added value public art contributesto a project they begin to see it as essential for a good project. We fund public artists to engage communities to determine how public art is going to be incorporated into their environment. Citizens involved with successful projects vote and encourage others to vote and support elected officials who bring artists and their ideas to the community. The artists and the program become the great mitigators. Our agency looks for ways to bridge the gap, and we use artists to do that. We are the artists' advocate and the program is the council members' way to reward their communities.
Steve Eisenhauer: As a local artist, I feel Pittsburgh devalues its artists by not paying them. So many fundraising events play off art as a main focus but do not reward the artists. I also see development that is very mediocre, that does not engage artists as creative people to solve the problems we have or to generate a new culture in this city. That's a huge problem for artists and for engaging art in this new vision of art as quality of life.
Becker: That's an important point. How do you build a value in the community for what artists do in public spaces? To build support for artists in public spaces I believe strongly you have to have awareness first—some sort of educational program is essential so that citizens become aware of the possibilities. If all they are seeing in terms of public art is what corporations are sponsoring on a plaza, that's not going to give them the broad awareness they need to understand public art not just as a product but as a process. The artist being engaged in the community is a process that is left out of the educational system. Artists are out there doing some of the work, making themselves visible to the community, either through grant support, through residencies, through the research and development phase of projects. The r & d is a very difficult phase for artists: nobody pays them to go out and find opportunities and develop ideas. Often with commission opportunities the artist has to do all work to get community suport. So, after awareness, then you can get understanding, and you can hope that out of that you will get support. Everything grows from the ground up, and the value eventually reaches elected officials and we hope affects public funding. I would like to underline, though, that public funding is never going to be the major support for public art in this community or any other community. Graffiti was brought up earlier, there is more money being spent to remove graffiti than being spent on commissioning all the public art in this town.
Nathanson: A number of things are coming together in this discussion. One is the discussion about engaging public officials. Another is what we've been talking about in the last few minutes, giving an artist the opportunity to be in a space with time. It isn't a budget and a defined final product that is at issue. I was fortunate to work on a project in Richmond, California for which John Rubin and Harold Fletcher, a collaborative team, came to us with a unique proposal, basically asking for six months to be in residency in the Richmond community. We wrote an NEA grant, got some matching funds, and finally put together a budget to allow them to come into Richmond to develop a project—really giving them time to figure it out. Their approach was to be working artist-anthropologists. They taught a class and came up with an inter-generational classroom of students who became their apprentices who helped them go out to interview and engage over 300 city workers and officials, from janitors to the mayor, to develop a project that was truly collaborative. It was through this process of working with the students and engaging over 300 people in the city that they came up with the final project —basically a public exhibition that almost took the form of an anthropological, historical, in-depth study of the socio-political-cultural life of the Richmond civic center. The city officials and the public works crews and people in the public art program and art curators and artists and members of the community, people who didn't know a thing about public art to begin with—they trusted our program to be able to do something that was meaningful and that was respectful and engaging of people. What came from that in subsequent years was new legislation and new commitment on the part of the city council for budgetary allocation for public art, and the trust that you could bring the artist in and give them a certain amount of latitude. So everything from very small projects in local parks to a major project have resulted from engaging not only city officials but also average people with the right artist and the right project.
The presentation and publication of this project were supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. "Art and Planning: A River Journey" was sponsored by the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Mellon University, with funding from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Carnegie Mellon University College of Fine Arts. The speakers represented in the text are Jack Becker, Forecast Public Art Works and Public Art Review; Carol Brown, Former Director, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; Cynthia Gould Brown, King County Public Art Program, located in Seattle; Tim Collins, 3 Rivers/2nd Nature artist and a fellow of the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry; Steve Eisenhauer, Pittsburgh Art Commission, artist; Susan Golumb, Director, Pittsburgh City Planning; Reiko Goto, 3 Rivers/2nd Nature artist and a fellow of the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry; Lockwood Hale, Public Art Commission of Pittsburgh; Malcolm Miles, author of Art, Space and the City; Marsha Moss, public art consultant; Kirk Savage, University of Pittsburgh Art History Department; Mary Navarro, Program Officer for Arts & Culture at the Heinz Endowments; Lisa Schroeder, Design Director, Riverlife Task Force; Alice Snyder, art advisor; Reneé Tanner, King County Public Art Program; Cheryl Thiele, Creative Art Services in Laguna Beach, California; and Jeff Nathanson, President and Director, International Sculpture Center.