Why have public art?
There have been many reasons. It’s said that Ramesses II ordered the carving of the statues at Egypt’s Abu Simbel to intimidate the neighboring Nubians. When Michelangelo’s David was unveiled in Italy in 1504, it stood as a symbol of independence for the Florentine Republic.
The reasons for having public art in Augusta don’t loom as large as all that – but that doesn’t make public art any less important.
“It’s telling people this is who we are; this is what we want you to remember us by,” Scott Thorp said recently. He chairs the art and design department at Augusta University. “It’s not going to appeal to everyone, and it’s not expected to do so, but it is expected to attract attention.”
Public art helps define a community, and it can consist of virtually any creative output. It’s not always just a framed oil painting. It’s a mural. It’s architecture. It’s one of Augusta’s entertaining annual festivals. It’s even the downtown fountains lighted in festive colors.
Last year the Greater Augusta Arts Council partnered with Americans for the Arts to study the economic impact of Augusta’s arts and culture output. The results of that Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 study are scheduled to be released Nov. 9 at the Sacred Heart Cultural Center.
That information could be helpful in directing another initiative. The Augusta Commission earlier this year approved a 10-year, $1 million public arts master plan.
Knowing through the study what’s most popular culturally could – and perhaps should – influence how the master plan unfolds.
Also, organizers of the Porter Fleming Public Art Symposium at Augusta University on Tuesday sought public input on how to implement the master plan.
Patricia Walsh, public art program manager for Americans for the Arts, was the keynote speaker at the symposium. She rightly pointed out how 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,” Walsh said. “This is one of the things we’ve seen over and over throughout this process.”
“If you’re excited about where you live, you’re going to invite people to come where you are.”
Well said. The Augusta area is bracing for thousands of new residents in the next few years, owing largely to the area’s growing cyber sector, and they’re expecting a high quality of life that Augusta should be prepared to provide.
When workers aren’t working, they’ll want to take advantage of our area’s arts and cultural opportunities. Developing and growing those opportunities now will enrich everyone later.