In the past forty years several of America’s largest cities have made or renewed a commitment to support public art and performance, whether by creating new spaces or by adapting existing venues. Public art (or civic art) is seen as a vital component for enhancing urban life and contributing to a healthy community by providing residents with a commonality of experience.
This installment of the Helen Edison Lecture series brings together three innovative curators who have created change-making public arts programming in Houston and Los Angeles. Moderator Jonathon Glus, Director of City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, leads the panel in discussing their mission to boost government and audience engagement, as well as some of the practical considerations and implications – financial, logistical, political – of contemporary arts production/presentation in high-volume public spaces.
Marc Pally, Independent Curator based in Los Angeles, discusses the Santa Monica Glow Festival, a dusk-to-dawn arts event on the beachfront which attracted over 150,00 people in 2008, 2010 and 2013. Susanne Theis, Program Director of Houston’s Discovery Green Urban Park, outlines the history and purpose of the 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston, which opened in 2008. Karen Farber, Executive Director of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, discusses her organization’s interdisciplinary collaboration with the University of Houston in inviting leading artists and creative thinks to the UH campus for workshops, public presentations, exhibitions, and performances.
Though differing in the nature and scope of their activities, the three curators share a common commitment to public art and performance as a unifying force in increasingly diverse communities. They extol the benefits of investment in civic art as including:
• Economic growth and sustainability
• Attachment and cultural identity
• Artists as contributors to society and the local economy
• Social cohesion and cultural understanding
The curators hope their experiences will encourage other towns and cities to explore and celebrate their own local cultures.