Sunday, April 10, 2011

Superior Public Art

One of the areas of tension between some liberals and conservatives is in the realm of public art. You don't have to look too far to find people asking the question, "Why are my taxpayer dollars being used for that?" I've been guilty of this as much as the next fellow. But the reality is, what a drab world we'd be living in if it we're for some of the public art that permeates our cities, sometimes in the most surprising places.

When my son was going to school in Grand Forks, their downtown river walk area was decorated with artistic fork sculptures. A couple years ago, it appears Duluth took their lead and requisitioned small creatively executed aerial lift bridge sculptures which can be seen around the Canal Park area.

One of the features of downtown Duluth is a fountain/sculpture across from the tech center. I remember a few caustic letters to the editor grumbling about the wasted money involved in implementing this aesthetic investment. But guess what? I can't imagine that intersection without it. If it were absent, we'd just have a bit of sidewalk there and... what? This is a great piece of public art.

Artists throughout history have made countless contributions to our lives, heralded and unheralded. What is it that makes New York City a distinctive safe harbor for the world's castaways? The Statue of Liberty beckons.... a work of art in the highest degree.

Having lived in Mexico one readily notices a great deal of public art, from murals in the town squares to the manifold statues. I would show a more examples if I could figure out how to transfer my Ektachrome slides to digital in a timely (the next 15 minutes) fashion.

And so it is that a group called Superior Public Spaces has been carrying out a face lift for the city of Superior, Wisconsin. The full name of the group is Superior Public Art Creating Community Environments, or SPACES. Last year the group initiated the Backdoor Project, in conjunction with the city's business development team (BID). The Backdoor Project involved hiring artists to paint murals in the alleys of many of the businesses on Tower Avenue, the city's primary and once thriving business district.

I like their slogan/motto: "Bridging Art and Commerce with Community." Here is more about SPACES and how they describe their role...

Superior Public Art Creating Community Environments – SPACES was formed in early 2009. We are an active and engaged planning and working team of representatives from a broad section of the community including artists, cultural organizations, businesses, and city agencies.

By us and through our working relationships with other community partners, our goal is to develop short and long-term art-based projects. These will lead to neighborhood and business revitalization, which will in turn, showcase Superior as a vibrant cultural destination.

At this time, we are working on the Back Door Project with local artists and the Superior BID, and developing a Phantom Gallery Project to bring all disciplines of the arts into our vacant storefronts. Longer-term goals include ways to beautify all major highways coming into Superior, and expand upon the mural project started by the Douglas County Historical Society.

For some reason I did not connect the reason for the murals on the alley side of these Tower Avenue businesses until this week I learned that Tower Avenue is slated for a major re-construction next year. In other words, they are going to dig it up and do it all over again. In short, the back doors will become front doors for a year. Pretty nifty idea, then, to think about all these details so far in advance.

Which leads me to the Phantom Galleries project. Phantom Galleries Superior is another SPACES project, designed to turn the empty storefronts and spaces on Tower Avenue into short term art galleries, events, installations and performances. Very cool idea. Artists get their work promoted as empty building spaces get utilized.

The call to artists went out earlier this year, but applications are still being accepted through April 15. For more information check out their Facebook page.

TOP RIGHT: This tribute to John Lennon in New York's Central Park is another well known example of public art.


LEWagner said...

Not in time for your post, but anyway -- I converted quite a few slides to digital using a piece of 4 inch PVC pipe about 2 1/2 inches long. I taped some double heavy paper to one end, making a pocket to hold the slide, then put the camera on close-up setting, and held it up to the sky. They turned out pretty decent. Unfortunately, termites got to most of my slides and ruined them before I got them copied. I'm just glad for the ones I did get.

ENNYMAN said...

Sounds interesting... and resourceful.
And grrr to those durn termites.