Pop Rocks: Arts council event unveils new ideas for public art

Last week, I attended the Greater Augusta Arts Council’s annual Legislative Luncheon.


This event is traditionally held to plead the case of the arts in local, state and federal budgets, often in fairly broad strokes and general terms.

This year, however, was a little different and the pitch considerably more specific.

Recently, a study was commissioned looking at public art in the Augusta area, how it compares to other successful communities and how a strong creative presence generally and public art installations specifically can aid and abet civic growth.

I do have some issues with the idea of another study – Augusta has, over the years, spent a lot of time, effort and resources on studies destined to grow dusty on a forgotten shelf. That said, there were some interesting ideas and examples presented.

  • Sculpture trails.
  • Sculpture gardens.
  • Art that celebrates our river town heritage.
  • Art that exists in the river and/or canal itself.
  • Modest art.
  • Grand art.
  • Sculpture.
  • Murals.
  • Events.
  • Permanent work.
  • And temporary.

It’s the idea of temporary work that I find most interesting, most appealing and perhaps the very thing that Augusta can make its own.

During the Legislative Luncheon, only a little time was dedicated to the idea of pop-up art – public art produced quickly, relatively inexpensively and with an eye on producing work designed with limited lifespan and interactivity in mind.

There are a few things I find interesting about this idea.

The first – how it would affect the popular perception of Augusta. There are a lot of communities with a strong public art presence, communities that are often spoken of with admiration and aspiration when compared to Augusta – Greenville, S.C., Asheville, N.C., and the like. These communities all have strong collections of permanent public art. But once art is installed, sadly, excitement, particularly locally, may fade.

As cool as our Broad Street Godfather is, he is something we tend to take for granted now. With a sustained program of pop-up pieces, new unveilings become an event and interacting with them feels more urgent and vital. These pieces, after all, have a shelf life.

Enjoy while you can for tomorrow they may be gone, replaced by the next pop-up masterpiece.

The other thing to keep in mind is the fiscal reality of public art.

A significant sculpture, the sort of piece that defines a community can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars – perhaps even more. The kinetic Kafka sculpture in Prague cost more than a $1 million to commission, construct and install. Is it amazing? Absolutely. A million dollars amazing?


Imagine a program that commissions juried artists, local and otherwise, to produce pop-up pieces with a three-month lifespan. Put a cap on the budget – say $3,000. Even if Augusta got really ambitious and had three of these pieces up at a time – 12 per year, the outlay is a relatively paltry $36,000 annually. Would there be other expenses? Probably.

Let’s say this program – with installation fees, management and maintenance, costs $100,000 a year – crazy money. That’s still a decade of constantly, consistently revolving art – 120 pieces – for much less than the price of a single Kafka.

And here is the thing. There is no rule that says the forest of mylar Happy balloons or Raoul Pacheco’s OTTLand needs to be ground into dust at the end of its scheduled run. Perhaps these are pieces that can be saved and collected, the foundation of a civic collection.

What’s interesting about the idea is there would always be something new and as an attractor, always fresh.

Fresh is what Augusta needs right now.

New is what those people currently eyeing Augusta – the tech community in particular – are looking for. We have the opportunity to build something – some things really – that would present our city in a new light.

It can be done – one piece at a time.