Public Art Brings Creativity to the Masses
By Rachel Galvin
Since the beginning, people have been making sense of their world through art. In the cave paintings at El Castillo in Spain, Neanderthals seemed to have stenciled around their hands as if to document “We were here.” At Lascaux in France, ancient man painted noble battles and fruitful hunts as a documentation of what had transpired and a symbol of the strength of their people. From self-expression, art in public places became larger than life, a testament to the power of civilization itself, from the Giza pyramid in Egypt to Il Duomo in Florence.
Today, public art's message is more nuanced, from being purely enlightening or entertaining to provoking and providing a message. It can serve as a landmark, a sense of place as well as a reflection of the culture of those who live there.
In Broward County, public art has a strong presence, with over 200 diverse pieces. Since the Broward Cultural Division’s Public Art & Design program began in 1976, its goal has been to inspire and stir creativity by showcasing everything from functional artworks to paintings, sculptures, photographs and beyond. From the transportation sector to the public libraries, public art serves as a unique way to interpret the world around us and as a uniting factor for all who view it. Funding for public art comes from capital improvements (2 percent of funds from county construction projects is allotted for art).
Those who fly into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport are cocooned in art from the moment they land, from the high tech ever-changing glow of the cylinders of light in the Hibiscus Parking Garage by Jody Pinto (www.jodypinto.com) to the cooing sounds of birds and other animals on the moving passenger bridge to Terminal 1 by Paul Demarinis (www.stanford.edu/~demarini). Within Terminals 2, 3 and 4, travelers can hear people voicing their praises, such as “You’re looking good today.” Created by Jim Green (www.jimgreen.org), these “Talking Vestibules” are meant to put a smile on passengers' faces. Even the floor is filled with art. Once covered in carpet, Terminal 3 has been renewed with a beautiful terrazzo floor by David Griggs (www.artsoup.com) and Scott Parsons (www.damnfineart.com). Called Rainbow's End, this project is still underway. Concourse E is complete and Concourse F and the ticketing area are in the works. According to the artists, this work was inspired by the writings of John Steinbeck on his 4,000-mile voyage by boat to the Sea of Cortez.
Another construction project in the works is the south runway, which is being documented, in addition to the Terminal 4 expansion, by new artist-in-residence Dawn Roe. Beginning with a photographic initial assessment of the work, Roe has begun the process of documenting not the chronological progress, but the feeling its impermanence creates. The back and forth movement of the earth mover to the dust floating in the air – each piece is an artwork unto itself.
She said, “My concern is not with constructing a temporal continuum that relates to the start and finish of the project, but with allowing the very nature of the structural transformations to dictate my response.”
Silent videos on multiple channels will be displayed in one of the terminals beginning in October. Eventually, she will have a community studio at the airport to continue her work and engage others, as well as giving public lectures in May and September 2014. To see her blog about the project, visit http://betweenthealreadyandthestillmore.blogspot.com.
For those wanting to take a break from the mad rush, Terminal 2 has a haven of artistic solitude in its Lee Wagener Art Gallery.
“It is hard to find a nice quiet place,” said Greg Meyer, spokesperson for Broward County Aviation Department. “Here, you don't have the PA system blaring. It is small and intimate.”
Artists here feature local culture in order to enlighten and entice.
Artist Tom De Vita, whose exhibition of oils on canvas, The Locals, was shown from April to July, mixes marine and tropical elements with cultural profiles to showcase our unique culture.
“Florida is an interesting place. I have met a lot of people here. I thought it would be interesting to combine them with sea life animals. They are portraits about how I feel about these characters,” he explained.” (www.tomdevita.com.)
Virginia Fifield also presented visual imagery about our natural environment, but her work is more message-oriented. Her show Drawings in Charcoal ran just before De Vita's (January to April) and featured life-sized uber-realistic portraits of animals.
“I think everyone knows what a horse, dog, bird looks like. We see them often as sentimental or stylized. I want people to look at them with greater awareness and recognize their importance, beauty and value. I drew in black and white because it is powerful and because I don't want people think it is just representational work. The piece Bird in the Hand is very representational of my work. It talks about management and relationship to nature – banding a woodpecker. Are we helping or hurting?” (http://virginiafifield.com)
Andrea Huffman, a mixed media fiber artist, will have her works on display from October 4 to January 5. Her pieces incorporate images of native plants and animals painted, dyed or printed in various means onto a fabric backdrop, often incorporating embroidery, as well as other media. She hopes to offers a respite to weary travelers by inviting them into the world of natural beauty.
She said of her work, “I create works of art on fabric that communicate my personal experiences and observations of the natural world. Fiber offers tactile and dimensional qualities, while essentially maintaining a two-dimensional surface. I embellish each image in a way that will emphasize and convey to the viewer my initial fascination with my subjects and bring that beauty to their world.” (www.andreahuffman.com)
These are just a few of the artists who have exhibited in the gallery. For more on the artists, visit www.broward.org/Arts/PublicArt/Pages/LeeWagener.aspx.
Public art is also prevalent at Port Everglades. Ralph Helmick's Fata Morgana was relocated after 12 years to a different location within Terminal 21. Created in association with Stuart Schechter, this mobile made with steel braided cables and pewter elements looks like a mirage of a ship of yesteryear. It is a mixture of two ships, the SS Normandie (1935) and the SS Independence (1951).
“People have to puzzle out this pointillist ship above water with a 3-D reflection below it. It is forms catching light and creating shadow,” said Helmick. “It is largely decorative. People are not looking to get aesthetically challenged here. We cleaned it really well, put in new cable and repainted some elements that were too dusty.” (http://helmicksculpture.com/)
Additional installations have been added to the port, including Mark Fuller's tropical mobile Rainbows Swimming. It is constructed with Fuller's favorite medium of choice – dichroic crystals that act like prisms so the colors change depending on where viewers are standing or how they are moving.
“I wanted to make an analogy to marine life, a big school of fish, with people all traveling in the same direction. I pulled in color to get a sense of the tropics to it. It also is functional art. The fish are swimming in the direction the people need to go to get on the cruise ship,” Fuller explained. (www.mtfuller.com)
Public art, he said, “brings something different to our environment. Our world is becoming very generic, homogeneous; everywhere you go, there is a Starbucks, Target … Public art is unique to the place and is almost always one of a kind. It gives a sense of place and makes people think.”
Guests in Terminal 26 at the Port can also see fish tank wall murals created by Carlos Alves and JC Carroll, called Dancing Oceans, lining the walls. (http://carlosalvesmosaics.com) In Terminal 2, ceramic murals called Starfish Shuffle by Xavier Cortada are on view. (http://www.cortada.com).
Port Director Steve Cernak said of the artwork, "The artworks in our cruise terminals delight cruise passengers of all ages. Optical illusions of a cruise ship, dichroic coated acrylic fish, highly engineered wave displays, colorful terrazzo floors embedded with brass globes and seapods, elevator towers transformed into a mosaic fish tank, all of the art at the Port is different, magical, and fun. We love to hear the cruise passengers ooh and ahh.”
Public art is also prevalent in other transportation venues, such as Pompano Beach's Northeast Transit Hub where guests can tap out a rhythm on a variety of drums stemming from various cultures. Created by SonArc Inc. (Bill and Mary Buchen), the drums come from as far away as Haiti, Africa, Brazil and Cuba, representing diversity. Not only do they provide a visual element, but the universal language of sound also brings unity to all people. (www.sonicarchitecture.com/index2.htm).
Many pieces of public art have a cultural component. Fort Lauderdale's African American Research Library and Cultural Center, at 2650 Sistrunk Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale, is brimming with culture and artwork from paintings and photography to sculptures. The communal Harrambe Room is a good example of how a public space can be transformed into an educational and cultural lesson. On the terrazzo floor is a wave pattern intersected by a yellow line indicating “the middle passage,” the crossing through the Atlantic of slaves from Africa to the Americas. On the walls are digital prints on canvas exemplifying five cultural themes: People of Broward, Heroes and Pioneers, Civil Rights Leaders, the African diaspora and the black national anthem.
Children can be inspired by public art as well. At the Young At Art Museum, 751 SW 121st Ave., Davie, in 2012, artists Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt (http://rr-studios.com/) created a secret outdoor garden where kids can unleash their imagination through play, art and learning on flower benches with 10-foot-high alphabet letters spelling “I Love You.”
Public art is about to get really personal with an Inside/Out project for the County's upcoming Centennial, which takes place in 2014-2015. The Public Art & Design Program is planning to create 10 significant murals and/or sculptures throughout the county, as well as other pop up galleries, commissioned pieces, sculptures and more, in addition to performing arts.
One of the most exciting elements is the global participatory art project Inside/Out. Originally created by the artist known as JR, the concept allows people all over the world to participate by taking close-up photographs of individuals and blowing them up large and displaying them on buildings, the ground, stairs, and other locations in public places. For more information on the concept, visit http://www.insideoutproject.net/en. According to Broward Cultural Division Public Art & Design Administrator Leslie Fordham, plans are being made to implement this project.
Fordham also is responsible for running the new Friends of Public Art program. She plans on creating special activities from guest speakers, installation events, how-to seminars and more. “We want to be like a museum without walls and include activities a museum would have. It is for anybody interested in art. People would be invited to artists' events and the like,” Fordham said.
Artists can get involved in public art through the Duane Hanson Allied Artist Award Program, which gives mid-career artists a chance to be a part of major projects by partnering and collaborating with more experienced artists. This program, created in 1994, honors its namesake, an internationally known artist who was a member of the Public Art and Design Committee.
Creating art in public places is not so simple.
Mark Fuller explained, “With public art, it is typically a competition. They put out a call to artists. It tells about what they are looking for with no specifics [just about space needing art]. Artists submit qualifications and have to make an artist's statement, talking about how they would approach it, and send examples of their work. I have been in projects where they have gotten over 500 designs. Typically, they pick out three … then [narrow it down to] one. Once they have three, they can ask for a design. Up to that point, artists don't put pen to paper. Those on the short list give a full presentation. They pick from there.”
The selection committee, he said, can have between eight and 20 people and is comprised of everyone from representatives from the county, the architect, the legal department or anyone else with a vested interest in the project.
“They are very thorough,” he continued. “Once they make their selection, it goes to the County Commission for final approval. It is a multi-stage process. I applied a year to a year and a half ago. I started building in January and installed in May.”
Not everyone likes every piece of public art, but that's okay, said Fordham. “People have different opinions about art, but it brings people together in discussion. It is like people watching a football game. There are going to be some people that don't like the game. But people can get together and talk about something they care about,” she explained.
Find out more about Friends of Public Art and the Duane Hanson Allied Artist Award Program, as well as other works of public art around the county, by visiting http://www.broward.org/Arts/PublicArt/Pages/Default.aspx.