I’ve always been interested in creating, participating in, and viewing art in general. I chose to work with TEMPOart because I wanted to get more involved with art on a more public level. My goal for this internship is to understand more about how public art can make powerful and thought provoking statements in ways that are more difficult (or impossible) for other forms of art. I want to learn more about the value of showing art in a public space that is accessible to everyone as opposed to a more formal setting, like a museum. Also, I want to learn more about the relationship between public art and activism, and how public art can address social, racial, environmental, and economic issues, and bring communities together while exciting public spaces in the process.
Going into the internship, I had a lot of questions about what makes a piece of art “successful”, what counts as public art and what doesn’t, and about the definition of public art more generally. Looking at all the different projects and approaches to public art by each of the organizations I’ve researched—such as The Association for Public Art in Philadelphia, Creative Time in New York City, Forecast Public Art in Saint Paul, and Now and There in Boston—I’m beginning to understand that public art can mean many different things, and lacks a universal definition.
It is problematic to try to define public art because definitions in the past have excluded the voices of marginalized communities, and public art has often failed to take into account non-white perspectives while installing projects. Perhaps public art should remain undefined in order to elevate the voices, approaches, and experiences of people that have traditionally been silenced. I’m realizing that the question of what “counts” as public art, something that I asked earlier in the week, is unanswerable. Allowing only some pieces to “count” makes it easy to disregard non-white ideas of public art and continue to erase diverse perspectives. This makes me think about the need to diversify and decenter whiteness in public art, increase the accessibility of public art, and bring out the voices of communities that have been excluded.
I’ve also had a lot of time to think about how we are supposed to interact with public art. The short answer is that there is no answer, and that “supposed to” is not the right way to think about it. There are so many ways people engage with art, and the way this happens with public art is especially hard to control since the pieces are integrated within daily life. It’s sometimes easy to glance at a piece and forget about it if you are rushing or preoccupied, for example. Since public art has no solid definition, beyond art that happens in public, sometimes it can be hard to find a uniting factor. Each project is so unique. But no matter the intention or medium, each project is meant to catch viewers’ attention in some way and cause them to think about and remember the piece.
Although artists can try to guide the way their projects are perceived, each person will take something different away from the piece based on their level of awareness, their experiences, their beliefs, and their willingness to engage with the project. hat it is depends on the way it is perceived, which is extremely subjective from person to person. I’m beginning to understand that redefining public art is essential to embracing the versatility of public art and helping diversify and expand the movement in Portland and as a whole.