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Q and A with Jean Greer

by Mark Peres

October 4,2005

Tell us broadly about public art in Charlotte? What is the state of public art in the city?

Charlotte's public art program began in 1981 under the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission and has been administered by the ASC since 1993. Over the course of 25 years, 70 artworks have been created throughout our community by means of City and County funding. With the leadership of Bank of America, Wachovia and other private donors, our Center City has been greatly enriched with another 40 artworks which offer residents and visitors a sense of Charlotte's vitality, civic pride and beauty. Compared to other cities with notable collections, such as Portland, Dallas and Phoenix, we are about 10 years behind where we need to be. This is partly due to the previous voluntary funding policy. I am encouraged because the future looks promising. The City and the County 1% for art ordinances now enable funding for artworks dispersed throughout the growing urban area as part of new construction. ASC is currently managing 33 projects and will complete more than 10 large projects this year. The CATS public art program, a separate program within the City of Charlotte, has commissioned 13 artists to create multiple works for the 15 stations along the South Corridor in addition to 12 other works. So we are on the move!

What is the role of public art? Should it reflect or challenge community taste?

Public art can delight, engage, intrigue or challenge viewers. Artists as creators record and interpret who we are as a culture. Their artworks animate our community by adding imaginative layers of meaning to our gathering places or buildings. What would the Square at Trade and Tryon be without the four sculptures by Raymond Kaskey? They have become distinctive, tangible symbols of our shared history. Because they are public, they are accessible to those who might not go to museums and in that sense serve as a valuable cultural and educational resources. Public art often serves a need identified by an agency, stakeholders and community members engaged in the selection of artists. The general perception of community taste in artwork in Charlotte is traditional and conservative. That perception will expand, as the community is changing and seems to be hungry for innovative work. Through a carefully orchestrated and inclusive process it is my role on behalf of ASC and the Public Art Commission to offer the community the highest quality of talent in the public art field today. I hope that we are challenging community taste and raising expectations and possibilities.

How does the ASC go about selecting artists and public art? What process do you follow?

ASC uses a community-based process to select artists, and the work is the responsibility of the Public Art Commission, a nine-member board appointed by the City, the County and ASC. Members are drawn from the fields of art and design, education, business and the community at large. Commissioners chair and serve on the artist selection panels, which are comprised of facility or site stakeholders, the architect or engineer for the site and community members. Elected officials may also choose to participate. Once ASC knows the work plan and projects for the coming year, the projects are advertised on our website. We mail a "Call to Artists" to approximately 1500 artists, advertising new projects and directing them to the ASC website for project descriptions and application information. We also advertise nationally through the Americans for the Arts Public Art Network listserv and through the NC Arts Council listserv. Numerous selection panels are convened each year to review written and visual submissions by applicants. Panelists decide upon a shortlist of artists for each project and these individuals are invited to Charlotte for interviews. Each panel selects a finalist and alternate which are then referred to the Public Art Commission for review and approval. The Commission's recommendations are sent to the ASC Board of Directors for review and ASC contracts with the artists. The process is labor intensive and the Public Art Commissioners give many hours of service to ensure that the City and County have talented artists creating new projects.

What projects are coming on line? Which projects are you particularly excited about?

ASC has seven new projects coming to completion. The Rolfe Neill Tribute sculpture by artist Larry Kirkland is a privately funded artwork sited on the entry plaza of ImaginOn. This project is one of the most important civic gestures for Charlotte since the statues on the Square. Inside ImaginOn, a beautiful pair of bronze sculptures by the team of Jim Hirschfield and Sonya Ishii focus on the theme of storytelling. Just two blocks away, five artists are completing artwork for the Arena. Each one promises to be spectacular, and all focus on the theme of Charlotte's history - past, present and future. Outside there are elegant carved granite benches by Paul Sires and colorful bobbin columns and sculptures surrounding the building by Andrew Leicester setting the tone for the Arena as an entertainment venue. Inside are two monumental photographic ceramic murals by Mike Mandel, a brilliantly colored terrazzo lobby floor by Thomas Sayre and two large-scale oil on canvas murals by Tommie Robinson opposite the escalator banks. We believe this concentration of new works will raise the expectations of what public art can mean for the community. In the coming year, we are moving forward with a major project at the new County Courthouse, the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, Third Ward's West Park and artwork for an eastside sportsplex.

What is the civic value of public art? Why is it worth the expenditure of public tax dollars?

Public art tells the story of who we are as a community and animates our city. It often serves as a catalyst and collaborator in urban design and development efforts, in neighborhoods and in celebrating our diverse identities. Is it worth the tax dollars ? Yes, and the expenditure is minimal per citizen. For example, the FY 06 City public art budget funded by tax dollars is $255,500, and the current City population is 651,101. This is a 39 cent investment per citizen this year. Public art is vital to making Charlotte a vibrant, colorful and memorable city that will inspire for generations to come.

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