In 2007, the City of Sierra Madre adopted a Cultural Arts Master Plan. The city sent out surveys, held roundtable discussions with local artists and other residents (I went to at least one), talked to arts organizations and funders, and did a lot of homework on the history of the city as an artists' colony. It is a truly community-driven document.
The document itself outlines several goals for creating a more robust and vibrant artistic community and objectives to help promote opportunities for local artists to thrive and to contribute to the city's cultural development.
One of those goals is the creation and promotion of some type of public art program. So what is public art? It is a work of art placed in some public commons location. The intent can be to educate, to memorialize, to spur discussion or interaction, or simply to beautify a space. Pieces are usually sponsored or commissioned by some local government body since the work is typically placed in a municipally owned location. And because of that they are free to the public to view and appreciate. They aren't part of a private gallery or museum or personal collection.
We have a few of these scattered through town if you think about it. Lew Watanabe's Weeping Wall in Memorial Park. The Veteran's Memorial photo wall also in the park. The little statue outside City Hall. The tile mosaic wall hanging inside the YAC. What else am I missing?
The work of moving through the goals of the Cultural Arts Master Plan fell primarily to the city's Community Arts Commission which for several years has sponsored a variety of programs, projects, and policies to promote the arts and advance the work of the Plan. But the one area that has not seen any progress is public art.
Why? The simple answer is money. Isn't it always money? Isn't it frustrating and deflating when it all comes down to money? Sadly, the city has been unable to give the Commission a budget for commissioning or maintaining any public art projects. It's understandable. And in these tough times, local artists who are making their living off of their work cannot afford to donate pieces to town. They need to work.
Everyone once in a while a new idea comes up for a potential source of funding for a public art piece. Recently the City Council added public art to a very tentative list of potential ways to use some funds set aside for Community Redevelopment.
Sadly, some folks object to this use of funds calling public art a "frivolous concept." I can't call any project that could potentially employ a Sierra Madrean in their chosen profession and help enhance our town "frivolous." Sure times are tough and money is tight. It is tight for artists too who need to work.
Some folks also like to kick around the idea of making people pay to use the Library because they think it isn't really essential. I think we covered my objections to that , but the same principle applies. Library's are a part of the public commons as well. They make us better. Art makes us better. It teaches. It bonds us together. It creates controversy. And it puts people to work.
Sierra Madre is not a large town. We don't have a lot of spaces suitable for a public art project or two. But surely we could come up with something. I just can't decide though what I think it should be. Murals on the sides of buildings modeled on the great mural program up in Eureka, CA. Sculptures in parks and maybe in Kersting Court like the program out in Palm Springs that attracts visitors just to see these pieces. A fountain. A garden. A storefront gallery.
I'm open to suggestions.