Why Not a Local Artist?

Why not a local artist for theater corridor project?
By Margaret Garrington

The Theater Corridor public art project is situated between two downtown buildings, Earthly Goods and Starbucks. The artwork is limited to a city-owned parcel, 15 feet by 142 feet, connecting Main Street to the parking garage. The walls adjacent to the walkway are privately owned and may not be used for a mural. The intent of the artwork is to transform both day and night experiences of the walkway, incorporating creative use of light. The project is allocated $113,000 from transient occupancy tax funds.

Some community members have expressed displeasure at the choice of a non-local artist for any public art in the city. The Public Art Commission recognizes Ashland and the Rogue Valley have many fine artists. About half of the 22 pieces in Ashland's public art inventory, and all of the artful utility boxes, are by local artists. The Public Art Map and Ashland's website are resources to explore for more information.

A visual artist develops areas of expertise in their pursuit for professional development. Fundamental art concepts such as line, form, value and color are guiding art principles. Artistic practice has numerous branches of specialty. A painter must develop the additional expertise to become a muralist. It's very different to work on a 2- by 3-foot canvas than an al fresco painting on a 30- by 50-foot wall. Public art is an area of knowledge and mastery requiring study and practice to develop proficiency. Even within the public art realm there are subcategories such as work for indoor display versus outdoors; murals versus sculpture, metal versus stone, etc.

There is the myth of an artist as a wholly gifted and creative being, who can do any art easily, and "makes it" on just their talent. Professional artists develop their creative practice through considerable study, hours of hard work in their oeuvre to become technically accomplished, and must be savvy business people in managing time, projects, and funds.

PAC received qualification submissions from 28 artists or artist teams for the Theater Corridor project. Four were local artist teams. While these local artists are all highly regarded in their field, they were unable to demonstrate a proven capacity for this particular project by providing samples of previous artwork at a scale and complexity envisioned for the corridor. PAC has a duty to recommend the most qualified artist for creation of a public art piece.

After thorough review of all the applicants' qualifications during five public meetings, vetting of references and phone interviews, PAC determined Gordon Huether is the most qualified applicant. He has 30 years' experience creating public art and a robust public art practice with a professional team of fabricators and installers. He has worked collaboratively with public entities and communities in producing large-scale projects, and has completed more than 70 public art commissions. In his submittal, he showed professional qualifications and relevant artwork, including significant experience incorporating lighting design into artwork, demonstrating the experiential qualities and capacity for the complicated corridor project.

Huether states, "I approach each project through a fresh lens and let the story and the parameters of each project guide my creativity. I believe a successful public art installation should articulate a public space and give it definition and meaning ... Artwork should not get "lost" in a landscape or architectural setting, but instead add depth and dimension. Ultimately, my approach to the integration of art, its concept, approach, material and fabrication will respond specifically to the history, culture, people and stories of Ashland. The conceptual development process for the theater corridor will include extensive research about the site and the community. ... I will engage with project stakeholders and community members to learn more about Ashland and the theater corridor and then let the story and the space form the conceptual basis of the artwork."

The city of Ashland is eager to gather citizen input for this project to share with the artist. Four questions to spark thoughts for concepts the artist will develop may be answered at the Ashland Public Library display, or online at www.ashland.or.us/theatercorridor An opportunity for the community to meet the artist will be announced in February.

Margaret Garrington of Ashland is vice chairwoman of the Public Art Commission.

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