Public art can help create community pride, unify residents, expert says

Patricia Walsh, public arts program manager for the Americans for the Arts, speaks with Larry Millard, an artist and professor emeritus at the University of Georgia, during The Porter Fleming Public Art Symposium Tuesday at Augusta University. SPECIAL/RHIAN SWAIN

With the last major installation of public art occurring nearly two decades ago, Augusta is a little behind the culture curve.

 

But no more than the average community, one of the nation’s top public art experts said Tuesday.

“One of the conversations that I always get from anywhere I visit is that ‘We’re so behind in public art…that everyone else is doing something awesome,’ ” said Patricia Walsh, public art program manager for Americans for the Arts. “No, you’re not. It’s OK, we’re seeing growth across the country (in small- and mid-size markets).”

Walsh was the keynote speaker at The Porter Fleming Public Art Symposium at Augusta University, where community leaders, artists and the general public gave input on how to implement the 10-year Public Arts Master Plan approved earlier this year by Augusta commissioners.

The $1 million plan, which would help fund attractions such as monuments, sculpture trails and festivals, aims to boost tourism, make the city more appealing to millennials and create the “sense of place” civic leaders say is lacking in Augusta.

The arts plan was half funded by the city’s arts agency, the Greater Augusta Arts Council, and was produced by the same firm that created master plans for the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau and city’s Recreation and Parks department.

Walsh cited a recent survey showing 67 percent of Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race and ethnicity.” She said her experience has shown that public art helps make “folks become more engaged with their community.”

“You start to feel more prideful and therefore you really start to take care of your space,” she said. “This is one of the things we’ve seen over and over throughout this process.”

Because 77 percent of Americans experience art outside of traditional arts venues, such as art museums, public art is the most “equitable” way for a community to share creative works with its citizens.

Public art also can boost “cultural tourism,” she said.

“If you’re excited about where you live, you’re going to invite people to come where you are,” Walsh said.

The Greater Augusta Arts Council is scheduled to present the findings of the Americans for the Arts’ “AEP5” study on Nov. 9 at the Sacred Heart Cultural Center Great Hall. The keynote speak is Randy Cohen, Americans for the Arts’ vice president of research and policy.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

 

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