Creating the Climate for Public Art:

More than tourist dollars:

Sitting over coffee last Friday afternoon at Burnet Avenue's Sparky Town, Mary Stanley said she's going to next Thursday's public art workshop at Gifford Zoo because she wants to know what other people think "public art" is. Stanley, who lives part of the year in Parati, Brazil, a small coastal city that hosts a hugely successful annual international literary festival, is a founder of Art Across Borders, a project that addresses how the arts sustain communities.

"Public art goes to the core of who we think we are," she said. "There's such a long tradition of public art based on history-making events, really on conquest and imperialism, men on horseback. There was a clear break after 9/11. They're still fighting about what should be built at Ground Zero -- really, what public space is for. I remember the 'New York Times' ran a huge piece on European cities designed with those broad boulevards converging on -- well, literally the monumental. But I think it started breaking down earlier, with the Vietnam memorial in DC -- that low black wall, public art that acknowledged the cost of war. And there's a whole parallel tradition of people's public art that's not funded and blessed by public money. So public art is a lot more than boosting tourist dollars."

On April 24th the Gifford Zoo hosts "Creating the Climate for Public Art," a three-hour gathering produced by the City's Public Arts Commission (PAC) and the Cultural Resources Council (CRC). Liesel Fenner, manager of public arts for the Washington, DC-based Americans for the Arts, is the main speaker. She'll present a slide show overview of what other communities are doing nationally and speak to current trends, like "master-planning" and regional arts networks, that may echo Stanley's view. Then participants will have a working lunch, discussing a series of base questions with table facilitators, after which PAC and CRC will take a report back to the community for comment via the eight TNT neighborhood planning councils. Clark says there may also be a follow-up meeting specifically for artists.

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