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Over the years working as an artist in public space, I’ve come up with a few guiding principles:
Public space is social space. Place-making is a significant element of my public commissions. I always try to find a way to create opportunities for social interaction. Whether it’s by incorporating seating, paths, shelters, beacons, I believe that the more places we have for benign accidental meetings, the better off society will be as a whole.
Drunks and power washers. For several years I was in charge of building and maintaining a large public art collection. The recurring dreams of something happening to the artwork have finally stopped, but I still think about the people whose job it is to keep my public commissions looking good long after I’ve left the picture. I want to make it easy for them, for their sakes as well as for benefit of the public’s investment and my reputation. For that reason I build my work to last, using traditional, time-tested materials that take no more effort to maintain than their surroundings. I always ask myself if the artwork can withstand two things: The guy with the power washer, and drunks who think the work would be fun to climb or push over.
Context is critical. I rely on access to the design team, stakeholders, and community members as part of my research when I’m making art for a specific place. To have it otherwise would be like throwing darts at a dartboard blindfolded. Hearing from the people who have spent countless hours understanding the function, purpose and audience for a site is invaluable to me.
Public art should contribute to the public good. Public art can do more than decorate public space if it is integrated with larger policy initiatives such as crime reduction, pedestrian and cyclist safety, community gardens, affordable housing. Unfortunately, most percent-for-art programs are not yet able to accommodate the site-integration of art to that degree, but I will continue to advocate for that. My motto is, Art may not be able to change the world, but it can change this corner.