By: Emily Weber
Public art, at its best, is used to create inviting and creative spaces where people want to spend time. Public art is inherently different than art in a museum or gallery. It can’t be judged on aesthetic or educational value alone; it must also serve a community-driven purpose. Public art’s main purpose is “place-make”– to create a place that evokes vibrancy and belonging in community members. Public art encourages people to feel at home in space. Public art is supposed to signify community beautification and investment. And most importantly, public art needs community buy-in.
The Iowa City City Council is embroiled in a debate over whether to provide $50,000 so the Iowa City Downtown District can hire a fundraising consultant to raise $500,000 in support of the proposed 30-foot tall sculpture, “The Lens.” You can read KCRG’s coverage of the decision-making here and here.
A rendering of “The Lens” from the City of Iowa City found on KCRG.com
Most recently, the council decided in a 2-5 vote they will not fund the consultant to raise money for “The Lens” sculpture as it currently exists.So, is this a city council that is not in favor of public art? Not in support of community development? Consider the excerpt below from Project for Public Spaces by Fred Kent and Cynthia Nikitin. This quote first appeared in Issue 45 of Public Art Review:
“It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people; what is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.” —William H. (Holly) Whyte
Public art so often comes under criticism by communities because it does not achieve what it is supposed to do: Does the proposed sculpture seem like it will attract people and make them want to linger in this space? Does it create an inviting gathering place? Does this investment beautify and better the community’s public space? If not, it is not the right piece for this space. Regardless, it seems as though the project will be stalled given the council’s decision. Tell us what you think.
You can read more about the Iowa City Public Art Program’s mission and “The Lens” project on their website here.