The gift of a recent chat with author and earth activist Terry Tempest Williams set me thinking about planting, healing, and the act of creating. Spring slides softly towards us, and hopes for renewal fill our hearts. We have the opportunity to center ourselves by being connected to color, textures, art and the very ground beneath us; we spin beneath piercing skies, ridiculously blue. We can celebrate the songs of our souls.
Pittsburgh’s Office of Public Art Director, Renée Piechocki, lives for art. A colleague of Barbara Goldstein’s, Public Art Director for the City of San José Office of Cultural Affairs, Piechocki is closely connected to Riverlife Pittsburgh, a non-profit with a mission to restore and promote Pittsburgh’s downtown waterfronts. A dear friend of mine heads Riverlife, and it was she who connected me to Piechocki when I called to talk about Pittsburgh’s public arts.
I called because Goldstein will soon visit Jackson. Her presence here is sponsored by the Jackson Hole Public Art Initiative, a local non-profit working to establish public art. Pittsburgh’s revitalized downtown is a huge success story, an excellent example of inspired planning, urban ingenuity and foresight. I talked with Piechocki about the larger points of successful public art. What paths should we consider going forward? How do we bypass non-productive agendas?
“If it makes you feel any better, every city struggles with the same issues when it comes to public art,” says Piechocki. In her advocacy role she helps Pittsburgh “figure out what to do, how to take a 360 degree point of view.” Should a program even exist? Conflicts of ego often get in the way of good planning, she says. Creating a system, one that all parties agree to adhere to, is crucial to avoiding chaos and to a project’s ultimate success.
Piechocki has learned that “how you do things” really matters. Keep a community informed, establish a process. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, and because Wyoming lacks a state-wide public art program a good strategy for Jackson would be to study the programs of other cities; across the country superlative case studies exist. Shadowing other projects broadens perspective and bring the work of non-local artists to light. Examining and ultimately mixing traditional and contemporary arts–Santa Fe’s program is a good example–can provide great fodder.
Commissioning local and non-local art is a good practice, says Piechocki. Many towns open RFPs only to local and regional artists. However, by limiting commissions to local artists the implication is that those artists should not be offered the chance to propose works in venues other than our immediate region. If we restrict others, we should expect to be restricted.
“Finding the funds to maintain public art is often the greatest challenge to public art programs, and the most crucial,” she notes. “But that is a public art program’s charge, and communities can be part of the process by providing town councils and all relevant public servants with informative printouts published by Americans for the Arts.”