Image from GCAC Report: What does the public think about public art in greater Columbus?

This month, the Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) released their 196-page State of Public Art Report report developed by Lord Cultural Resources, a consultancy specializing in cultural sector planning.

The report showcases the findings of the research and discovery phase—a year-long process to develop the region’s first-ever comprehensive plan for the future of public art in Greater Columbus and Central Ohio. 

In the research process, Lord and GCAC engaged with more than 2000 constituents, conducting a deep dive analysis into the public art policies, infrastructure and environment of ten cities, including Toledo, Ohio. They also conducted several regional stakeholder interviews, including a conversation with Margy Waller, the previous Vice President of ArtsWave in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The report details their findings, including what the community thinks about public art in the region, the current arts ecosystem in the area, and funding opportunities for public art.

 

We’ve pulled a few emerging insights that may be of interest to our member organizations.

Peer cities with the strongest public art programs (greatest volume, quality, and broadest geographic dispersion) utilize a “percent-for-art” ordinance on public development in combination with privately-run programs. Such programs feature local, national, and international artists while fostering a strong public art culture, collection, and history that celebrates regional arts and culture and places it in a global context.

Most of the people we heard from don’t see themselves reflected in today’s public art ecosystem. The decision-making power remains concentrated in the hands of a small number of groups and individuals.

The City of Columbus lacks a focal point for commissioning new public artworks, and the city’s current process for approving proposals for new projects is confusing for artists, business owners, city staff and public art funders.

There’s an appetite from artists, supporters, commissioners, and city staff for an independent third party to get involved in the public art process. This would lend additional support and expertise to the city’s system, and allow for enhanced fundraising, while still maintaining municipal oversight. However, any such organization would need to have strong public trust and thoroughly reflect the diversity of the region.

Funding sources for public art from both the private and public sector are inconsistent and uneven. There is a belief that the private sector should fill the gap in funding for public art. However, without a strong public investment example or a mandate, private sector funding has been inconsistent. In addition, voluntary funding for public art exacerbates issues of geographic distribution. As a result, public art is concentrated in areas with greater resources.

There is a need for greater education and capacity building for Columbus-based artists and the public. Artists and other stakeholders have identified a pressing need for professional development and educational resources to enhance Columbus-based artists’ capacity and retain talent within the region. Any successful public art program should include workforce development programs for Columbus-based artists and encourage international artists who receive public art commissions to participate in educational or skill-sharing initiatives.

The report also featured the following example of successful public art advocacy.

After its initial re-start, and together with the support and guidance of GCAC, the Columbus Art Commission began advocating more strongly for a formal public art program. In 2012, GCAC and CAC recommended to council the creation of a mural program to combat the onslaught of graffiti. Only a few years prior, in 2009, the City of Denver put forth a similar idea for the city’s public art program, which was established in 1988 underneath Denver’s Arts & Venues Division. However, street art was not part of the puzzle until the Urban Arts Fund (UAF) launched as a “graffiti prevention and youth development program” that facilitates the creation of vibrant public murals in graffiti-prone areas, with the help of youth and community participants. After completing their public art funding study, GCAC and CAC successfully lobbied for more action, and in 2014, Mayor Coleman issued an executive order to allocate roughly $250,000 annually towards public art.

For more information about GCAC’s initiative to build a public arts program, visit gcac.org.

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