In this post, Guest Blogger Dana Davis describes her life-long passion for public art. With an appreciation for public art’s history, significance, aesthetics and practical applications, Dana explores several magnificent examples of public art and how they made her appreciate the “view” (and purpose) from many different perspectives. Whether visiting Botanical Gardens, an Arboretum, touring a city or taking a stroll around the block, Dana encourages all of us to embrace (and notice) public art’s role in the landscape. Take a look . . . you, too, will be inspired.
Dana Davis, Former Past President and Board Member of the Valley Art Center in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, often posts unique public art installations on Facebook. This is her first – but we hope not last – post on Roots in Reality. Ms. Davis represents public art, and Cleveland, proudly. Thank you, Dana!
My sister and I had the pleasure of visiting the Atlanta Botanical Gardens (atlantabg.org) on a hot and steamy day this past July. The organization is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and invited celebrated Dale Chihuly (chihuly.com) to install his amazing work in the gardens all around the property. The end result was an awe inspiring exhibit of glass that mimics and enhances the gardens in seemingly impossible ways. It was so beautiful and inspirational that I am still thinking and talking about the exhibit months later. The artist was able to weave his glass into the natural elements so completely that visitors felt compelled to discover each piece with feelings of excitement and anticipation. What a joy for a first time visitor to learn every nook and crazy of these gardens in this fashion!
I am a fan of public art. Public art has been around for hundreds of years, often in tandem with gardens. All over Europe, a visitor can enjoy sculpture in public spaces and private gardens. The Hapsburg Dynasty alone left Austria, Spain and France covered with amazing giant horses and warriors perched high atop beautiful white buildings, leaving one to wonder how the heck did they get those heavy bronzes up there? I still don’t know.
What is exciting, thought, is how public art can also be an economic development tool. In Cleveland, where I have lived all my life, public art is generating new life into neighborhoods and parts of downtown. Witness, for example, how exciting our Playhouse Square (playhousesquare.org) looks like with an “outside the box” chandelier reigning over the street:
At the Holden Arboretum (holdenarb.org), a lovely 3,600 acre horticultural gem located a half hour east of Cleveland, a visitor can climb an architectural marvel of a 120 foot tower to view miles of trees and Lake Erie from above the treetops and walk a canopy walk through the tops of the trees to see what it feels like to be a bird. Families are streaming into the park to visit this new addition. Sometimes, though, the kids are more excited about that height than the parents! I witnessed more than a couple of dads nervously climbing those stairs.
On a smaller scale, the Valley Art Center in Chagrin Falls (valleyartcenter.org) recently turned a concrete block wall into a lovely mural, garnering lots of discussion and attention about the role of public art in historic towns. Chagrin Falls is a lovely old mill town with a fantastic waterfall and the powers that be guard its traditional elements carefully. Painting a mural was a huge topic of discussion (and a bit of a battle). However, the result of installing a mural on the side of the building was a huge increase in visitors and support for a community art center. Full disclosure — I am a Board of Trustee member at the VAC.
Of course, there are hundreds of examples of how use of public art is translating into visitors and economic boost. I have enjoyed a sculpture competition in Sioux Falls, SD where you voted on your favorite of over 30 sculptures installed on the downtown sidewalks. That contest forced you to walk all over the downtown. I have seen amazing installations in gardens to Montreal to Tokyo. I regularly post unique pubic art installations on my Facebook page, many of which feature the use of ordinary items like logs or sand to create amazing art. Unfortunately, though, sometimes locals are the ones who miss out . . . after visiting the Chihuly in the Garden exhibit, my sister and I mentioned to everyone we met how amazing it was – and not ONE of the Atlanta residents had seen it.
So . . . . spread the word for public art!!!
NOTE – Photos credits: misssmartyplants.com (purple Chihuly), artsatl.co, (Chihuly “flames”), atlantaabg.org (curly Chihuly). 123rf.com (bronze horses), cia.edu (Playhouse chandelier), holdenarb.org (Emergent Tower) and valleyartcenter.org (mural).