Art for One, Art for All: Public Art in Boston and Beyond

DATE:  February 2, 2017     CATEGORIES:  Blog, Speaker Series

Publi Art Panel

From left to right: panel organizers, Heather Balchunas of the Somerville Arts Council and A2 member services coordinator Jess Muise; and panelists Liz La Manche, Drew Van Zandt, William Turville, Michael Dewbury, Ann Hirsch, and Freedom Baird

Last month, we hosted a panel in partnership with the Somerville Arts Council about public art. Participating were six Boston-area artists to : William Turville, Freedom Baird, Drew Van Zandt, Liz La Manche, Michael Dewberry, and Ann Hirsch. Their work ranges from murals to sculpture and their pieces have been displayed at local festivals, Burning Man, Firefly, parks, municipal buildings, and even in Boston Harbor! For two hours, they discussed their ups-and-downs making public art.

Safety Orange Swimmers

Ann Hirsch speaks about “SOS (Safety Orange Swimmers)” a piece about the refugee crisis that was on display in Boston Harbor this past fall.

All spoke about the importance of “buy-in,” that is getting the blessing from local officials and community members. Van Zandt recommended getting others involved because they can bring ideas that an individual artist might not think of on his/her own. To illustrate the point, Turville talked about holding meetings with the community for an environmental piece. The piece’s final design came from a community member at one of the meetings.

Another reoccurring topic were the potential hazards. Vandalism is a concern and a few of the artists have had experience with their work or their peer’s work getting damaged. Public safety was also a major concern, especially since some of the artists on the panel incorporate fire and moving vehicles into their art. Turville told the story of how a police officer wouldn’t let his fish vehicle into a parade because despite getting the necessary permissions, the officer didn’t think Turville could see well enough out of the dashboard. Even artists who don’t use fire or moving parts had to worry about safety. When La Manche did the Stair of Fabulousness at Boston City Hall, officials initially told her she had to wear a hard hat, even though she was only putting riser tape on stairs.

Stair of Fabulousness

“Stairs of Fabulousness” at Boston City Hall by Liz La Manche.

Despite the hurdles, the panelists all agree that making public art is worth it. Baird said that she was more than willing to risk vandalism and make concessions for safety and community concerns because public art gives her the chance to reach people “who may never go to a museum or a gallery.”