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Conservation and Restoration

Many great public art projects, including some that are temporary, suffer from lack of attention after they are “completed.” The fact of the matter is, once the artwork is installed, its life is just beginning. Most plans for public art forget the reality of maintenance, or there are simply not enough funds available for the ongoing care of public artworks.

For permanent projects (lasting several years or more), a smart approach is to involve, if possible, a conservator in the process of planning and design. A professional conservator can help the artist and the commissioning agency anticipate future challenges, save money on future repairs, and provide a maintenance schedule that will preserve the quality and stability of such a major investment.

Once a piece has fallen into disrepair, its deterioration accelerates, and the cost of restoration increases. There are hundreds of murals and sculptures in the U.S. that are beyond repair. Efforts such as Save Outdoor Sculpture (SOS!) and Rescue Public Murals (both housed at the Smithsonian Institute) exist to help identify significant works in hopes of preserving and restoring them for future generations (at least in photographic form). If a public artwork appears to be in need of restoration, it is wise to hire a conservator to produce a condition report and assess the damage as well as estimate the cost of restoration. Once the cost is known, it may be helpful to engage the community to determine if the work should be saved, and if so, how it will be paid for. If it is beyond saving, or the cost is simply too high, the work may be deaccessioned—removed and either destroyed or stored. The cost of removing a sculpture can also be expensive. One alternative is to find a new home for the work, requiring the new owner to restore the work. Regardless, it is helpful to document the project before it is destroyed, and making the images available to your local historical society or the above-mentioned SOS! program.

Three Projects

Return JourneyReturn Journey

Return Journey was, in part, a restoration project. Saving the Brackett Park Rocket was part of the intent of the project from the outset. The artist, however, did not attempt to return it to its original glory. He intentionally wanted it to remain an artifact, a reminder of its history (including most of the graffiti that was scrawled underneath the three platforms). Once completed, Return Journey was donated as a gift to the city of Minneapolis, which has a wonderful and well-maintained collection. To accept such gifts the city requires that a maintenance fund be provided. In this case, the amount was estimated to be $10,000 (averaging $1,000 per year). In order to keep the annual cost of maintenance down, the Brackett Rocket Care Club volunteer to provide watering and weeding services to maintain the landscape around the rocket. More recently, the city received another gift to help add lighting to the rocket. With additional contributors helping after the installation, the artist has offered to add more names to the donor acknowledgment tubes (mounted over the cable turnbuckles). A video documentary of the project will be presented at the park center on the night they light Return Journey, and give the community another reason to celebrate all over again.

1000 Print SummerSanford Center

The Sanford Center (formerly the Bemidji Regional Event Center)required that any artwork commissioned for the facility be low maintenance. The terrazzo floor met that criteria with no problems. In fact, the floor will be well maintained by the Event Center staff regardless of the incredible design. The suspended sculptures are made of acrylic and are extremely low maintenance, needing only dusting once in a while. They are at risk, however, of vandalism. During the selection meeting, one panelist raised the question: what if an angry hockey fan starts waving a hockey stick underneath one? While this is clearly a possibility, the panel was willing to accept the risk and hope that the community embraces the art, reducing the risk of vandalism.

1000 Print Summer1,000 Print Summer

1,000 Print Summer is a temporary event set up in parking lots at community festivals. Therefore, there are no long-term conservation or restoration issues involved. It is possible that the steamroller could break down, thereby temporarily halting printmaking production. The creative artist in charge, however, would rise to the challenge no doubt, and find another way to print the blocks and keep the participants happy. The prints themselves are archival, using acid-free paper and carefully packaged for participants to take home.

Featured Article

Public Art Review Issue 38SERVICE MEDIA: Community as Collaborator

How can artists engage others beyond the accepted aesthetic norms of public art? This engaging and collaborative form of public art, which I call "service media," is very different from typical group object-building art workshops, not to mention the simple plopping of a statue on the square. And it is gaining ground.

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Featured Image

1000 Print Summer1,000 Print Summer

Artist Dave Machacek facilitated printmaking workshops at public festivals throughout the state, using a small steamroller as a printing press.