I’ve thought a lot ’bout what makes Austin so damn special. I mean why does everyone want to move here, come to school here and not leave, and buy a home in the Austin metro area?
The Chamber of Commerce helps me out here, “The five-county region is known for its Hill Country scenery, historic communities and laid-back lifestyle.”
I know when I first got to Austin, I was surprised at the abundance of greenery and green spaces across the region (of course there has been a steady decline in the past 15 years). The scenery and lifestyle means people spend a lot of time outdoors. With people spending so much time outside, public art is a good way to get works in front of people.
Unfortunately, Austin hasn’t really impressed on the public art front. There was good synergy a couple years back when AMOA invited Christo & Jeanne Claude to town (Jan-Apr 2006). Open Doors was at the DAC, Cracks in the Pavement turned Austin into a giant treasure hunt, Austin Green Art made its big introductory splash(es) and Robert Faires did a good job corralling their topics of interest in the Chronicle. But of all the organizations and organizing characters, the glaring omission would have to be Art In Public Places.
They tried getting out there this year with a series of workshops, but for the most part they are a behind the scenes player. Don’t know where all the red tape is getting people all tangled up, but there still haven’t been more provoking public art projects christened by AIPP. Everything I’ve seen still falls under the same decorative, utilitarian, beautification category that goes with work that is being squeezed into new construction projects.
That’s what I was thinking ’bout last summer. It became clear after attending AIPP’s Urban Ideas forum. Edward Uhlir presented a well funded, standard setting? and heavy on the architecture Millennium Park. Kurt Perschke presented a more fluid project, requiring less money but still having an impact: Redball Project. And then there was Austin. Megan Crigger introduced AIPP projects like the design elements of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway Project. Mere decoration when compared to Millenium Park and Redball Project.
Thanks to likes of First Night Austin, Austin Arts Alliance and Landmarks, there’s mounting pressure for more engaging public art. Even Downtown Austin Alliance is coming up with decent work [PDF]. Of course their jurisdiction is limited. We need a city wide initiative to give Austin the process and discussion of public art that gives us an insight into Austin’s perception of itself.
My challenge to AIPP is to quickly learn its lessons from its involvement with the 2009 Texas Biennial and execute a practical plan that creates engaging public works (temporary or not).
I’ll tell you ’bout what I sees.