Fabrication and Installation
While the traditional notion of “artist-as-craftsman” still persists, many artists working in the public art field today wear many hats: designers, art directors, or even project managers (not to mention publicist, secretary, and office manager). For many large-scale projects, it’s necessary to engage a variety of professionals in the process, including design, engineering, lighting, site excavation, construction, and installation. The process in similar to architecture, filmmaking or theater, in which the artist plays a central role, but employs others to carry out the vision.
People who build things for artists are called fabricators. They are often multi-talented, working in a variety of materials. Some specialize in metal casting, glasswork, wood construction, or ceramic work. Some carve or weld, and some create computer-generated 3D models. Many fabricators used by artists specialize in custom work for display companies, theatrical sets and props, advertising agencies and sign companies. Given the high cost of fabrication, it is wise to set aside a good portion of the budget for this purpose. Keep in mind, when problems arise, the cost usually goes up and the schedule is delayed. It is recommended that artists spend time researching options available to them—in their region and around the world. If you find someone good to work with, it often leads to long-term relationships and potential collaborations. Your fabricators can easily become “partners” in your project.
Often a critical phase in the life of a public art project is the installation. It can be a minor effort or require an enormous amount of time and money. Again, it’s wise to research different companies and get bids prior to hiring an installer for your project. Be sure the equipment is right for the job, as the cost can go up significantly for hydraulic lifts, large moving equipment or cranes. Rentals are a critical part of most project budgets, and it is wise to include a contingency of 5% or more for unexpected expenses or last-minute purchases or rentals.
For Randy Walker and his Return Journey project, the fabrication involved partial restoration of the Brackett Park rocket—he didn’t want to have it appear to be “new”—as well as construction of an extended center pole that would allow the rocket to appear as if it were taking off from the ground at a 10-degree angle. This required a team involving a structural engineer, and steel fabricator, a contractor to dig a hole and pour a large concrete foundation, and landscaping work with boulders and plantings. Randy already had a good working relationship with an engineer, whose signed documents proved invaluable in getting the city to accept the proposed installation. There were many complex problems to solve along the way, including once the hole was dug, which was proceeded by a survey to determine if any power lines were buried in the area.
A special in-kind donation was secured from—coincidentally—Rocket Crane Company to help retrieve the rocket from storage in 2006 and, almost a year later, hoist the restored rocket onto its new foundation at the entrance to Bracket Park, amidst some fanfare and picture-taking. Once the rocket was in place, there was a significant amount of work left to complete the artwork. Randy spent weeks doing much of the work himself, aided by friends, colleagues and volunteers from the neighborhood; the value of volunteer help is often underestimated, yet it can stretch your budget and give a sense of pride to community members involved in the effort. For the neighborhood, Return Journey was not like purchasing a work of art and having it dropped off one day, but rather an engagement with an artist—a hard-working and devoted artist—who clearly went above and beyond—much like the theme of the artwork itself.
The Sanford Center (formerly the Bemidji Regional Event Center)was very early in the construction phase when the selection of artists took place, thus allowing for greater integration of the art in the actual construction budget, as well as the process. Plans called for a 25,000 square foot terrazzo floor, to be installed by Advanced Tile, a company that had had some experience working with artists. Likewise, plans called for specialty lighting, along the lines of contemporary chandeliers in the entryways.
The consultants helped pave the way for planning by meeting with the floor company to see what would be possible in terms of an artist-designed floor, with their management of the installation. Cost and timelines were a major consideration. The selected artist, it was determined, should work closely with the company to insure a successful transition from the design to fabrication and installation. Barb Keith’s ability to research what was possible in advance of submitting her proposal was a key to the project’s success.
For Alexander Tylevich, his experience working with architects and lighting engineers, as well as fabricators who specialize in custom acrylic lamination and bending, proved invaluable. His close working relationship with the project architect and lead contractors allowed him to meet very specific requirements for weight load and installation timing, which had to closely follow the floor installation in order to meet overall deadlines.
In both cases, as with many large-scale projects, the fabricators and installers were critical links in the public art chain. The artists were primarily designers and project managers, with limited amount of actual hands-on construction and installation.
The 10,000 Print Summer project involved minimal fabrication in advance, since the project itself was about art-making on site in the community. It was all about engaging members of the community in the fabricating process, and providing hands-on experiences that made an impact on participants in a way that other art experiences can’t. The “installation” of the workshops was a labor-intensive group effort, setting up tents and tables, printing equipment and, of course, the steamroller “press.” Installing the steamroller, the main attraction for the project and an instant event maker, proved challenging at several sites. Hauled behind Dave’s car on a trailer, the vehicle required ramps, special plywood “paths” to avoid damage to lawns and stone plazas, and required extra safety precautions. The teamwork involved in this project, after completing a few events, became routine. The groups developed an efficient system for set-up and take-down that was impressive by any standard. Their ability to tour and manage the workshops, not unlike a traveling circus troupe, contributed significantly (and still does) to their ongoing success.