Calling all artists and everyone else in Augusta who cares about future public art in the Garden City.
The Greater Augusta Arts Council will be hosting a community input session on public art on Tuesday, Aug. 8, in the Linda Beazley Conference Room at the Municipal Building starting at 5:30 p.m.
Specifically, local Augusta artists are invited to share their thoughts and ideas about the city’s future public art projects and provide the Greater Augusta Arts Council some much-needed input.
If citizens and local artists show up, this could prove to be an interesting and beneficial meeting.
This meeting could put the word “public” back into “public art.”
Earlier this year, along with the city’s approval of the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Destination Blueprint plan, Augusta commissioners were also asked to support the Public Art Master Plan from the Greater Augusta Arts Council which features a number of recommendations for future public art projects.
The plan was developed by a Minneapolis-based consultant called Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, or CSL.
In 2016, CSL began analyzing the city’s existing concepts for tourism projects and comparing Augusta to other competitive tourism destinations such as Columbus, Ga., Greenville, S.C., Asheville, N.C., and Oklahoma City.
As a result of some of CSL’s findings, the Public Art Master Plan was developed, which recommends the creation of several projects, including sculpture trails, a new festival for public art and the plan’s pilot project called the Art Cart.
Basically, the Art Cart is a golf cart that will be transformed by local artists into a functional art installation. So far, the only Art Cart installation that is currently funded is the first prototype, which is still in the process of being placed. EZ-GO sponsored this first cart in its entirety. But future iterations of the project would take interest, and funding, from private business or the city for others to come about.
In the Arts Council’s presentation, it’s proposed that these golf carts could serve as a shaded public seating bench and a 4-slot bicycle rack, according to the Greater Augusta Arts Council’s plans. The carts could also have a way-finding map of downtown Augusta and a charging station for handheld devices with energy provided by solar panels on the roof, according to Brenda Durant, the executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council.
Basically, the Public Art Advisory Panel and Downtown Development Authority agreed that the Art Cart would be a fitting nod to Augusta’s status as the “golf cart capital of the world” while keeping the installation locally focused and functional.
However, not everyone is jumping up and down with excitement over the proposed Art Carts.
Specifically, local artist Tom Hubbard, along with a number of other Augusta artists, voiced some concerns in June that the Greater Augusta Arts Council hadn’t properly engaged both artists and the community in its Public Art Master Plan.
“I am a local artist working on public art projects and I don’t claim to know all of the answers, but I do have experience in the field of public art and I’m greatly concerned about the actions and capabilities of the Greater Augusta Arts Council to implement public art in the city of Augusta,” Hubbard told the Augusta Commission on June 13. “It troubles me that the Arts Council is not engaging the public in these projects, something that is clearly stated in their own public art policy.”
He also had grave concerns about the proposed Art Cart.
“The first public art project, called the Art Cart, is a poorly conceived idea that reduces artists to being nothing more than decorators with little or no community input and no idea of where this work will be installed,” Hubbard said. “This is not the way to produce works of public art because public art is not decoration.”
Right now, the public has absolutely nothing invested in this Art Cart project because they weren’t included in the proposal, Hubbard said.
Support from the citizens of the county is crucial to the success of any public art project, Hubbard said.
“The community actually becomes the stewards of this work after it is installed and the Arts Council and the artists are moving on to other projects,” Hubbard said. “That is one of the reasons it is called public art. I have seen and experienced this first-hand in my own projects and when it is done well, you foster civic pride, you create a sense of place and you educate people.”
However, when the community is not involved in the public art from the beginning, “you get a very different result,” he said.
“My other concerns about the Art Cart include issues of maintenance and professional practices,” Hubbard said. “In my view, any artist that responds to this call for the Art Cart is being set up to fail because they are being asked to monitor and maintain this work for a period of two years. This is simply unprofessional and it is not standard practice in the field of public art.”
Artists can’t control the public’s treatment of their art, Hubbard explained.
“The public will interact with this work in ways that you can’t even begin to imagine,” Hubbard said. “Sometimes good, sometimes playful and fun, and sometimes not so much. I tell people to think of their worst-case scenario, to multiple it by 10 and then to check on social media because this may become the new image for your city if the project is not well thought out.”
Hubbard insisted that the Art Cart could easily become the next big disaster for downtown Augusta if there wasn’t more pubic input into the project.
“Otherwise, you run into what, in the industry is usually called Plop Art, which is where it feels like something just fell out of the sky and landed there,” Hubbard said. ‘And that builds resentment because people don’t feel like they are a part of that. They don’t feel like it represents them and they don’t feel like they were included in it.”
Apparently, the Greater Augusta Arts Council heard Hubbard’s concerns.
As a result of some of the objections to the Public Art Master Plan and the Art Cart project, the Arts Council has called this community input session on public art on Aug. 8 to hear ideas from the people — you.
In addition, the Arts Council has slowed down its “call for artists” regarding the Art Cart project and extended the deadline to Aug. 17.
So it appears the Arts Council is willing to listen.
Now, it’s the local artists’ turn.
Show up to the meeting.
Voice your ideas and your concerns about the current plan.
Have a say about the public art in your own community.
Otherwise, you can’t complain if you don’t like the end result.