What is public art?
Written by Liana Wheeldon, Executive Director of Arts Council Wood Buffalo
While public art can be found all around us, it’s a tricky thing to define, and what can be considered public art varies between individuals and community bodies. In the general sense, public art is works of art created in any media that has been planned and created with the intention of being staged in the public realm, free and accessible for all to experience. Public art can help define the identity of a city, demonstrate the character of a community, and serve to enhance the attractiveness of or, create dialogue about, that identity.
Having public art strengthens the community in numerous ways: by providing income for artists, learning opportunities for students and community members at large, and inspiring visitors to our region to catch a glimpse of who we are as a community. These works are created by artists as a reaction to the world around us, to challenge perceptions, to provide a sense of identity, reflect history, our current situation, or future possibilities.
In our region, there are a variety of artworks in public spaces including artworks on Municipal land, private land, commissioned street art, and architectural features, although not all are designated public art under the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB]’s Municipal Public Art Program. The RMWB is dedicated to developing art in public places through various initiatives to strengthen a sense of place and belonging for its residents, while attracting and creating lasting memories for its visitors. Some of the initiatives are: the bus shelter wraps; the street banners; and the graffiti abatement large scale murals. IgNIGHT festival, an RMWB facilitated temporary public art exhibition that aims to encourage public art initiatives in ways that engage the interest and imagination of the general public, will run from October 20 to 29, 2017 at Jubilee Plaza, and will showcase several local artists that have created illuminated art.
The Municipal Public Art Policy, created by the RMWB and approved by council in June of 2014, states that the Municipal Public Art Program will develop a dynamic collection of art that celebrates Wood Buffalo’s culture, history, and people, while enhancing the visual and aesthetic impact of the region. An RMWB facilitated Public Art Committee was formulated and consists of community volunteers, functions to provide recommendations and expert advice with respect to the creation and implementation of the Municipal Public Art Program. Municipal Public Art Guidelines were also created to set standards for the acquisition, collection management, maintenance and conservation of public art.
As a local social-profit organization, Arts Council Wood Buffalo (ACWB) also works with public art initiatives in the RMWB, although it is separate from the RMWB’s arts programming, Municipal Public Art Policy, and Public Art Committee. At its core, ACWB’s mission is to champion investment in the arts in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. ACWB is steered by a volunteer board of eleven community members representing the different art disciplines, as well as the community, Metis, First Nations, business, industry and social profit sectors. Three Arts Council staff dedicate their time to creating programs that give our regional artists and arts organizations the skills they need to thrive locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. We also partner with different local organizations to add art into the community: Fuse Social Timeraiser; Wood Buffalo Food Bank Association’s Empty Bowls Festival; Alberta Winter Games 2018; and RMWB’s Urban Market, just to name a few.
On September 29, 2017, as part of Alberta Culture Days, ACWB invites the community to an unveiling of the new public art piece Boreal Forest Stories, a beautiful triptych painting created by former local artist Lucie Bause, and funded by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts’ (AFA) Public Art Commissions Grant. Installed at The Redpoll Centre at Shell Place, this artwork pays tribute to the shared social profit workspace managed by the United Way. When asked why she is drawn to creating public art, Lucie says: “I am drawn to creating public art as it is an exciting way to engage the community, inspiring conversation and challenging ways of using public spaces.” A fourth panel, The Butterfly Effect, was created under the same grant and incorporates artwork created by selected students at Thickwood Heights School. Lucie hopes the Boreal Forest Stories “…bring a sense of awareness and pride to the community by celebrating life and light in the Boreal Forest environment and that the students who participated in the community engagement workshops feel proud of their work and learned about the power and joy of working in collaboration.” Though the artwork is on display at The Redpoll Centre, it is part of the AFA’s provincial collection, a distinguished group of 2D and 3D art pieces by Albertan artists, and is not included in the RMWB’s Municipal Public Art Program.
If you are interested in learning more about the RMWB arts initiatives and the public art committee, visit: www.rmwb.ca. If you would like to know more about Arts Council Wood Buffalo and The Redpoll Centre Public Art Commission unveiling reception, visit: www.artscouncilwb.ca.
*This post appeared in the Friday, September 15 print version of the Fort McMurray Today