Last week was an interesting week for me at The Arts Partnership. I received a text message early Sunday morning from a former intern who wanted to let me know that Sunny, the bison statue on the corner of Main Avenue and Broadway, had been struck again. That’s twice in 13 months.
For nine years, Sunny welcomed people to downtown, completely undisturbed. And now, twice in basically one year?
On Monday, a great article came out in The Forum talking about vandalism of public art downtown.
Tuesday, I was invited to talk about this issue on multiple talk radio programs. I was shocked by the level of anger people have about the idea of public art at all.
One emailer told me the only people who care about public art are “very silly and rich.” Another called to ask if I didn’t find the whole conversation just a little bit ridiculous. Yet another said public art is a total waste of money.
Here’s something I realized: I live in a wonderful little bubble world where the majority of people I am surrounded by are mostly in agreement with me on most things. I like that bubble, but it doesn’t change the conversation very much or grow the choir.
The callers during these interviews left me with the stark realization that there is a big divide between those who support public art and those who don’t, and those who don’t are as passionately against it as I am for it.
In a lot of ways, it was less about what was being said and much more about how it was being said. Many of the callers uttered the words “public art” like it was a dirty phrase; something that you quickly spit out of your mouth because it is so distasteful.
That’s confusing to me. What kind of a horribly negative interaction with a piece of public art would someone have to have had in their lives to literally hate it? To find it a complete waste of time? To be actively angry about it? To rage against the few tax dollars that go toward its funding in the metro?
One caller said my support of public art definitely put me in the minority.
You know what? That’s simply not true.
Active support for public art might not be the kind of issue that hundreds of people are talking about over coffee on a daily basis throughout the metro, but I can promise you, it’s being talked about more positively than not by more people than you think.
But my new goal after last week is to reach out to the people whose baseline is, “I don’t hate art.”
Because I’ll wager that that’s where the great majority of people in this community stand. They appreciate many of our beautiful buildings, the pieces of public art we do have; they slow down to look in the windows of galleries.
Continuing the choral metaphor, they sing in the shower and the car. They might not have ever thought about joining a formal choir.
But that’s just what I am asking you to do. Why sing alone when you could join a group of people whose goal is to create a wonderful sound together?
This choir understands and celebrates out loud that, ultimately, public art is a piece of the overall picture of what makes a community great. They also understand that the metro is spending a very small percentage of their budgets on it and that it’s having a positive effect on the look and feel of the community.
Is public art the sole marker of a community’s greatness? Of course not, and I have never said it is. What I have said is that placemaking matters to people who are wondering where to make their homes. A creative community plays a part in helping people decide where they will live and work. Public art is one visible identifier of a healthy local economy. And you know what? I’m not a solo artist; I sing in a fabulous choir of art makers, supporters, patrons and more.
If you are an “I don’t hate art” person, I hope you will join the choir—our members are excellent, our melody is complex and our song is part of what makes the metro great. And we need your voice!
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, January 25, 2015, issue of the paper.