The artist in front of the Bon Air mural.
Commentary by Sabra Crockett
Ed. Note: Sabra Crockett is a local artist who worked as Lead Artist on a mural located on Bardstown Road under the Watterson Expressway. It was sponsored by the Bon Air Neighborhood Association as part of a larger beautification plan that was funded by a $33,000 Metro Government grant. It was officially unveiled this past September.
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Sabra Crockett. All rights reserved
Recently, WAVE 3 news did an investigative report on the questionable spending of city funds on capital infrastructure, and used the mural located at the Watterson Expressway and Bardstown Road as an example. The reporter stated an erroneous amount of “over $30,000” for the actual cost of completion. Although, we are still awaiting some invoices to be sent in, the actual cost was closer to $12,000. I should know, since I was the project manager and lead artist on the project. However, it still angers me that the government spending money on public art is considered a waste of money. I need to make something perfectly clear: Art is not a luxury. It is a necessity, especially public art.
Americans for the Arts Public Art Network Council argues that:
“Cities gain value through public art – cultural, social, and economic value. Public art is a distinguishing part of our public history and our evolving culture. It reflects and reveals our society, (and) adds meaning to our cities and uniqueness to our communities. Public art humanizes the built environment and invigorates public spaces. It provides an intersection between past, present and future, between disciplines, and between ideas. Public art is freely accessible.”
Public art is important for everyone’s benefit. It shows that a community cares about their surroundings. It brings vibrancy to businesses and public places, draws out-of-town visitors, and inspires connections and creativity. Public art defines a city. It breaks up the creeping, homogenized blandness of so many American cities. It also creates an opportunity for the artists to become civic leaders. It can, and often times, does bring communities together, by allowing opportunities for the residents to participate in the act of making art, as well as create a sense of ownership and pride to a neighborhood. It increases awareness of not only the public space, but also how we can become a better steward and protector of that space.
People like to move to, and be a part of cities that have their own distinguishing presence. We look at, and recognize cities by their icons, like the St. Louis Arch, and the Statue of Liberty in New York City. Public art has also evolved into interactive experiences, like the hydraulophone fountain located outside the Ontario Science Center, in Ontario Canada, or Meejin Yoon’s, Light Drift, temporarily located along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where thousands of people played and transformed the installation to change the color of 90 floating neon orbs.
It also has been proven time and again how important public art is to revitalizing a city economically. One of my favorite success stories is the Community Bridge in Frederick, Maryland. A desolate concrete bridge was painted to look like an old stone bridge with the use of trompe l’oeil techniques. Thousands from all over the world come to visit this beautiful work of art every year. This project has revitalized an impoverished city, brought together a community that was racially and socio-economically divided, and spurred economic growth by developing tourism. Imagine if we had something similar to that in Louisville! In fact, according to the Louisville Fund For the Arts, the arts have a $250 million impact on this region’s economy. So when I hear that a project that I was a large part of, being attacked for wasteful spending, I have to wonder, where are our priorities?
I have been a professional artist in some form or another for nearly 20 years, working in both the public and private sectors. I have painted sets for theatres in the area, such as Actors Theatre and Stage One, as well as in New York and Alabama. I have worked in numerous private homes and businesses painting custom works of art. One of my most recent projects, a collaboration with a dear friend, Linda Erzinger, was a sculptural tree in the Parkland Community Garden located in the West End. When Linda and I were putting the finishing touches on the tree, a bus full of children along with a church counselor came up to it and started discussing it with their group. It brought them inspiration, and sparked conversation about where they stood in this community. It brought them hope for the future. That’s when I knew that this piece of public art was successful. I feel, as an artist, that I have a responsibility to create quality art that inspires. I truly believe public art can be a catalyst for positive change.
In a profession where your worth to society is constantly challenged, I think it is time for artists to start declaring their real value to the rest of America and the world. Artists bring ingenuity and freshness to ideas and ideals. We often question societal, and political values where others may not, and we work just as hard at our craft as any other professional. I believe there is a gross misconception of artists as being flaky, frivolous, and lazy: that our talent just comes out of our head. True, we have the ideas, but one needs discipline to carry out and make those ideas into tangible things. Believing artists have these negative traits hurts everyone. It impedes forward thinking, and stagnates us civically and economically. When artists team up with city planners, civic leaders, businesses, and architects great ideas and inspiration are the results.
So, the next time you hear a negative report on the government spending money on any public art project, please consider it an investment toward your community. Think of the opportunities it will bring, and the positive change it can make for us all. Thank you.