Wednesday, January 25, 2012
San Francisco has long required major development in or near its downtown Financial District to provide on-site public art. The art fee is generally popular, though unfortunately, much of the art produced by the fee is not. For instance, CurbedSF recently invited readers to vote for their least favorite piece of public art in the city. It's hard to choose.
Now the city is looking to restructure that public arts program in a way that would channel money into a public arts trust fund. While the proposed changes are still being worked out by the city's Board of Supervisors, the idea makes perfect sense. The reality is that the reason so much public art is bland is that developers are not in the business of making art, and so what they want is art that has no negative impact on the development either now or in the long-term. The result is typically a bland mass, often with a quasi-whimsical edge.
The public, on the other hand, should not be wedded to massive, permanent art sculptures as the only form of art they see downtown. Rather, the public arts trust fund gives the city the chance to fund art experiences and installations that more actively engage workers, residents, and tourists. For instance, dance companies in some cities have taken to impromptu street performances, acts that provide an invitation to engage traditional arts in unexpected ways. A trust fund approach would allow the city to support such performances. One could also imagine the trust fund supporting the work of other groups of artists, such as conceptual artists like Christo or even Hans Haacke, whose work may not be suitable for permanent installation in the city, but might prove powerful in a three- or four-month installation.
Let's hope San Francisco moves forward with this public arts trust fund approach; it will be one for other cities to watch, too.