Nancy and I get to the Portland Art Museum about once a year and when we do, we usually go different directions. Last Sunday, she went upstairs and I went downstairs, and we met up about two hours later. Instead of looking at art, I decided to wander into the auditorium and listen to a panel discussion that had just started.
I never caught the names of the panelists, but they were artists who have worked on major public art projects. Their discussion on public art was probably held in conjunction with the museum’s current exhibit by Lee Kelly, a renown Oregon sculpture artist. Thirty of Kelly’s large public sculptures are part of the landscape from Eugene to Vancouver, Wash. One of his works can be seen at Campus Way and 30th Street on the Oregon State University campus.
The panelists talked about myriad issues, including the difficult and complex process of getting from the initial planning stage to project completion. There are a lot of hurdles, including lack of funding and controversies that arise. One of the panelists worked on a project for the Muni transit system in San Francisco. He was in charge of artwork proposed for several streetcar stops. When he spoke at a packed public meeting, however, people didn’t want to talk about the artwork. They wanted to air their complaints about two parking spaces that would be lost.
When the panel discussion concluded, the moderator asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand.
I didn’t have a question, but I told the panel that I appreciate public art and those who create it. There will always be funding issues and controversies, I said, but it’s important that they keep doing what they’re doing. Then I told this story:
From 1998 to 2004, on the first weekend in December, I took the middle school youth group from my church on an overnight trip to Portland. We stayed on the third floor of First Christian Church, one block from the Portland Art Museum. On four of those trips, we took 4 1/2-mile hikes. The k
ids encountered hundreds of people, as well as diverse architecture and public art. They touched the stone panel depictions of Oregon mountains on the Hilton Hotel. They posed by sculptures in the park blocks and Pioneer Square. They saw public art at Saturday Market, Tom McCall Waterfront Park and along the Eastbank Esplanade. When we got back downtown near the end of the hike, we would walk along the north side of the Portland Building and look up at Portlandia, the striking sculpture that greeted us with her extended hand.
The artwork we saw enriched our hikes. Public art enriches our lives.
In some cities, public art “hits a home run,” as one panelist put it. Chicago’s reflective Cloud Gate is a good example. Popularly known as “The Bean,” it is a magnet for people and among the city’s most photographed attractions.
We have plenty of public art to be proud of in the mid-valley.
When we had snow Tuesday morning, I was working at the Gazette-Times. I walked over to Central Park to get some pictures. The beautiful ballerina sculpture near The Arts Center had some snow on it. I snapped a shot of it as someone was walking by, then posted the photo to the web. I’m sure the ballerina has been photographed hundreds of times on snow days — and all year round.
In Albany, I applaud the public art vision of John Boock. He championed the effort a few years ago to create a small park with a sculpture and other art features on a fomerly vacant lot at First Avenue and Lyon Street. John also led the recent project in which an attractive sculpture created by Raymond Hunter and Czarina Gupton was installed on the north side of the Downtown Carnegie Library.
And the nonprofit Historic Carousel and Museum, with its corps of carvers and painters, has become a major attraction for Albany.
In this season of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to the artists — and those supporting their efforts — who create art for all of us to enjoy.