The Enterprise of Process: Notes on Planning for Public
The field of public art is a relatively young one with roots that can be traced back to the creation of percent-for-art programs. Public art, broadly defined, encompasses artwork placed in a public context -- on the street, in a park, on the exterior of a building, within the common spaces of a public building and so on. The history of public art is enormous and includes commissioned art as well as art initiated by artists. Planning efforts for public art are, not surprisingly, almost exclusively directed toward official activities: government sponsored programs that either depend on mandated allocations (e.g. one-percent of capital improvement project budgets or private development projects), or that encourage voluntary participation through incentive programs or through the power of persuasion and mutual benefit.
The variety of circumstances that constitute the public art field is one of its strengths and presents administrators with challenges in developing appropriate administrative structures and funding strategies. There are precious few models that can be duplicated safely. The idea of site specificity, which is basic to public art, must be incorporated into the planning process itself. Points of view vary tremendously and must all be given a respectful hearing before a responsive and useful plan can be produced.
DEFINING THE SCOPE
Public art plans can be developed through a staff or arts commission initiative. This in turn may determine who has the greatest voice in determining the nature and scope of the plan. A clear scope of services is essential as it will provide the framework for both producing and evaluating the plan. Occasionally differences between staff and commissions arise and are natural by-products of different interests and perspectives. However, before too much effort is put into the planning process these differences should be settled through a written agreement acceptable to all. Reporting relationships should also be settled upfront. Who will read the draft documents? Who will finally approve the plan? Sometimes on-going internal conflicts within staff and commissions, as well as between these two parties, produces confusion. Efforts to create clarity in these areas is well advised. Those writing the plan - be they staff, commission or consultants - must also be clear about their role. Is the client already clear about their needs and ideas? Does the client envision the planning process as an opportunity to produce a formal document of existing ideas? Such an approach can be well served by staff and commission. Alternatively, the situation may call for a more independent evaluation and set of recommendations, which is the approach most effectively pursued through the services of independent consultants.
Much of the scope will depend on the current status of public art programming within the locale undertaking the planning process. Creating a plan for a new program requires significantly more attention to administrative and legislative issues than would creating a plan to redirect and focus an existing program. The scope will need to define which areas are to be addressed both in terms of evaluation of current practices, structures and funding and where recommendations for changes should be directed. The following list includes issues that commonly are included in public art plans and might be cited as topics to be addressed in a scope of work:
PUTTING THE SCOPE INTO PRACTICE
How the issues cited above are specifically addressed and finally resolved into a document will depend on the direction the client group gives the planners. The Phoenix plan places emphasis on integrating art into the city's major infrastructure projects such as sewage treatment plants and roadway whereas the small city of South Lake Tahoe, California adopted a plan that looks to public art as a component of cultural tourism. This fact must be ever present in the minds of the planners so that they are constantly checking their progress against the objectives and needs of the client. A good working relationship with the Art Commission (or other client entity) and staff is essential and must be cultivated from the start. Public art staff is in the trenches, often dealing with controversies in the community and feelings of territoriality among other departments, commissions and/or organizations. While staff does not have policy making responsibility its knowledge provides a cornerstone for creating a workable and successful plan. It is helpful to hear both staff and commission interpretations of the existing and desired public art landscape.
Staff and Commissioners are essential in identifying individuals and groups for interviews and group meetings. A successful public plan will reflect not only the ideas of the Commission but also a broader group of citizens whose concerns and knowledge will be invaluable for producing the plan and for its eventual implementation. Among the likely groups are:
In addition to conducting interviews and meetings to gather information and test ideas, the planners can also take into account information gathered from existing documents, which might include:
Staff and Commissioners can develop a list of suitable documents for review that will provide the planning process important contextual information. Public art is by its very nature an expansive activity so it makes sense to pursue planning from multiple perspectives - this is helpful both in terms of administration, funding, community involvement and program concepts.
In addition to interviews and document review, field work is another research mode that provides essential information. The cultural and social perspective that interviews and documents provide can be placed into a concrete context only through field work. The look and feel of a streetscape, park, mini-mall, city boundary, bus stop, schoolyard or bridge is critical information. Thoughtful viewing of the city, and understanding the relationships between parts and wholes, the nature of its vernacular visual language, as well as its many cultural manifestations can all contribute to the plan's worth.
THE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE
The function of citizen review and involvement is structurally addressed through the Arts Commission or similar functioning entity. This group will often have the immediate oversight responsibility for the production of the public art plan. Where commissions are large, a standing or ad hoc committee may make the process smoother. Indeed, the planning process can be made cumbersome by too large an oversight committee. Seven to nine members will provide both the diversity and coherence that good planning requires. The composition of the group will also benefit from diversity in all areas. Artists should have a substantive role throughout public art planning and implementation and be included on the Oversight Committee. Other members should come with diverse resources and an ability to bring useful perspective to the discussion. Among these additional members might be arts volunteers and activists, arts administrators, architects, planners, private developers and representatives from foundation staff and boards, neighborhood groups and tourism and economic development councils. Additional citizen involvement may occur through the formation of an Advisory Committee, which has the advantage of furthering inclusiveness. It must be clear to the Advisory Committee that it does not have responsibility for approving and adopting the plan. The review process must include an opportunity for the Advisory Committee to share its opinions with the Oversight Committee.
Once the process is underway, those charged with drafting the document will need to achieve consensus, or formal direction, from the Oversight Committee. Conflicting directions and opinions from the Committee can create difficulties for those drafting the Plan. Clarity in addressing such situations is critical. Sometimes this might lead to situations in which those drafting the Plan are asked to incorporate their recommendations into the document. Other times the Committee will debate a particular issue among itself and come to a formal resolution which is then incorporated into the Plan.
Going beyond the Oversight Committee for formal approval presents many problems. The appropriate place to incorporate ideas from the broadest community is through interviews and meetings. Surveys provide an additional layer of quantitative information but they will add substantial costs to the Plan. Ideally, the Oversight Committee will be representative enough of the community to guarantee broad input.
The research will be driven by the kinds of issues the client wishes to see addressed, as well as the interests and observations of the planners. Reviewing existing plans and other city documents will reveal priorities already in place and may indicate directions for the Public Art Plan. Cities that have made a commitment to economic development and cultural tourism will require one approach as opposed to cities that may be seeking neighborhood identity and development. Cultural identity, artist involvement, equity of resources, and access are among a host of issues that require thoughtful consideration. These directions will also be made clear during the interview and meeting process.
Certainly, where percent-for-art programs are in place, it will be necessary to fully research the capital improvement projects (CIP) budgets. Each project will be weighed for its potential as a site for art, as well as for its capacity to include artists in its design or its capacity to include artwork in any form. The flexibility that percent for art programs allow will also determine to what extent, if any, the plan may recommend aggregating or shifting allocations within the CIP. Interviews with staff are critical to determine the administrative resources that can be garnered to support a public art program.
Field work requires both on-foot and drive-by viewing. Interviews are a good place to find out about potential sites for public art, as well as learning how the city functions physically, where various communities are located, where contested and trouble spots are located and which sites have historical and/or current cultural significance. Redevelopment and development plans will indicate additional locations for inspection. A good starting point for a tour is the infrastructure, such as parks, roadways, bridges, transportation systems, utility and sewage systems and public buildings. Viewing sites firsthand provides critical information about scale, complexity, content, audiences and potential for art. Site observations must be contextualized within other information gleaned from interviews and document review, otherwise the Plan may not be truly responsive to a community's desires and needs. For instance, the City of Las Vegas has several arterial highways that connect the suburbs to downtown and look very much alike. A few of these highways are also major thoroughfares in the African American community. These streets have been designated in the Las Vegas Public Art Plan for arts interventions, which will provide community pride for residents as well allow motorists passing through an opportunity to associate the community with positive visual markers. Physical context and appropriateness for the inclusion of art is only one of several necessary criteria that must be met.
The scope will indicate several tasks relating to the presentation of a draft document and identify milestones in the planning process. However, it is possible to continually test ideas throughout the interview process and in other informal situations. A formal meeting should be scheduled for the discussion and approval of goals and/or objectives. Achievement of this milestone will allow the planners to take the Plan forward with confirmed insights as to the purposes that must be served. Goals and objectives provide a necessary measure for evaluating the Plan's recommendations.
Public art planning needs to value community input and involvement by structuring programs and their administration to ensure substantive community participation. How the broader community is involved will vary. Some communities have artist groups that have been established for many years who may wish to be considered partners in the public art process. Others coming forward wishing to participate may represent cultural, ethnic, racial, neighborhood, educational or professional groups. Perhaps the Advisory Committee will serve the needs of other interested parties. In lieu of an Advisory Committee, members of the Oversight Committee, along with the planners, can meet with groups, or schedule several focused or open meetings.
Once the final draft is ready for distribution it should be clear how the review will occur. The document may be presented as a set of recommendations, requiring considerable study before adoption by the Oversight Committee and less revision by the planners. Or, the document may present itself as a plan, ready for formal adoption and implementation, in which case changes desired by the Oversight Committee will need to be incorporated by the planners. Additional approvals may be required from any bodies the Oversight Committee reports to, and might include commissions and elected councils or boards.
The planning process can deliver inspiring ideas triggering hope and action on the part of commissions, staff and community members. Ideally this is the outcome though in real life the scenarios are inevitably more complex. Plans are products of thoughtful community effort and therefore have political potential. They can be used to alert elected officials about public art's potential and lay a foundation for support. They can reassure community members that their voices have been heard. And, for the arts community, long besieged by dwindling public support, plans indicate a desire to find ways to include art in the city's landscape. The role a plan can play in advocating for the arts is an important one and must not be minimized; this is a parallel function to the plan's more overt function of creating a framework for the support and creation of public art.
Finally, the plan will reflect the ambition and resources of its community. Hopefully these two factors can be somewhat aligned, though generally ambition for the arts far exceeds the resources to support it. Whether a community is satisfied with its current public art program and only wants guidance for implementation and the establishment of priorities, or whether it is a community wishing to completely redefine the mechanism of supporting and implementing public art, all can benefit from the process of discussion, introspection and dreaming that are intrinsic to the planning process. Planning creates opportunities for coming together, voicing visions and concerns and making those voices legitimate. In this way planning confirms what artists well know: that process is the essence of enterprise.
Cruikshank, Jeffrey L. and Korza, Pam. Going Public: A field guide to developments in art in public places, Arts Extension Service, Division of Continuing Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, 1988
Public Art on the Net: A comprehensive site with extensive links.
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