A public art project can be born out of community need, artist inspiration, civic engagement, neighborhood beautification, or creative problem solving. It can also be forged out of public will and fiscal policies. There is no one way to dictate the birth of an idea but there is one combination of elements that is integral to all public art projects: the intersection of art, space, and the public.
Exercises for Idea Generation
- Brainstorming with artists. Once you have some basic parameters or goals in mind, think about images and concepts that align. Doodles on napkins, a descriptive phrase, word association games, and open-minded dialogue can trigger lots of possible directions.
- The site can often be the key inspiration for an artist. The content of meaningful public art today is often informed by the context. It helps to research the historical and cultural significance of the site, talk with local communities about the local “flavor,” consider who makes up the audience for the site. What do you know about them? What kind of impact do you want to have on the audience?
- Check out a few books, scan through a back issue of Public Art Review magazine, or Google public art (or street art, or outdoor art, community art, etc.). What projects interest you? Why? If you can answer both of these, you can start to narrow down from lots of options to a facet of public art that you might wish to pursue.
- What issues in the community are of importance to you? What local or global concerns are you most passionate about? Do some research, talk to someone working in that field, think about places and people most associated with the issue (if there are any), and go exploring. What do you want to say to people or make them think or feel? The answers should give you clues to ideas that relate.
- Keep in mind that you don’t have to know how to make everything your mind can imagine. Like architects, public artists are free to imagine and design, and then get help from others to realize their ideas.
Return Journey was a beautiful partnership between the neighborhood seeking to preserve the Brackett Rocket as a landmark and the artist who developed a design that reused the playground structure in a creative, meaningful way. Randy Walker went through several ideas and drawings, seeking to give a new life to this monumental “found object.” He was challenged by issues of safety, the structural integrity of the 50-year-old structure, concerns expressed by neighbors and the limited budget. He also spent time with city staff and the community group discussing the project and making revisions to address concerns.
The Sanford Center (formerly the Bemidji Regional Event Center) is a project that started with a site and a budget and the idea generation was up to the artist. Being a state funded facility in a region with a percent-for-art mandate, the City of Bemidji needed assistance in determining the best fit for their dollars. For this project Forecast worked with a public art advisory committee to first conduct a site analysis of the construction plans to create a list of possible options for public art projects. From and exterior iconic sculpture to interior murals the committee generated ideas and voiced desires. The committee determined that hanging sculptures and an artist-designed terrazzo floor design would serve the users of the event center most effectively. Forecast then conducted a call for artists, and commissioned six artists to produce preliminary designs. Two artists were finally selected for commissioning.
As an example of a project straight from the mind of an artist, 1,000 Print Summer illustrates a creative reuse of industrial machinery as a way to generate community interest and involvement in art making. Artist Dave Machacek and his organization ArtOrg set up printmaking workshops in large tents at festivals around the state of Minnesota. They employed a steamroller as a printing press, creating a kind of performance event at each project site.