Report from Seattle Public Art Conference

ecoartspace participated in this year’s Americans for the Arts Public Art Network annual conference in Seattle (June 17-20, 2009), curating a Green Room workshop and also facilitating an afternoon roundtable session on selecting artists for “Green” public art projects. The theme of this year’s conference was Renewable Resources: Arts in Sustainable Communities.

Approximately 80 people attended the morning Green Room session rotating through 5 tables in 3 half hour sessions covering most aspects of greening the arts including Communications, Operations, Programs, Facilities, and Public Art. Ian Garrett, Executive Director of The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA) and teacher of Sustainable Theater and Technology at CalArts (Valencia, CA), led the operations or office procedures sessions. Jennifer Orr, who is the green team leader for Bumbershoot: Seattle’s Music & Arts Festival, led the communications sessions. Michael Crowley, member of the Broadway Green Alliance in New York City led the facilities sessions along with one of the very first LEED attorney’s, Janet Kim Lin, with Bullivant Houser Bailey in Seattle. Michael wrote his award winning thesis in Arts Adminstration from Goucher College entitled Somewhere That’s Green: Environmental Stewardship in Performing Arts Organizations. Betsy Bostwick, Public art Manager for Clackamas County Arts Alliance and recent graduate of the Master’s program in Arts Administration from the University of Oregon (Eugene), led the public art sessions. Bostwick wrote her thesis on Going Green with Public Art and published an article for the Community Arts Network on Greening Public Art Policy in 2008. And, Patricia Watts with ecoartspace who led the programs sessions shared one of her most prolific exhibitions, Hybrid Fields, in terms of high community participation and engagement with a broad audience on issues of sustainability. This was a group show of artists addressing food issues both in the gallery and in the public sphere.

In the afternoon roundtable, a group of 20 artists and administrators discussed the artist selection process for LEED buildings and alternative transportation projects, led by artist and project manager Vaughn Bell with SDOT, Rebecca Ansert with the LA County Arts Commission, and again ecoartspace founder and west coast curator, Patricia Watts.

Overall the junior arts administrators (and some veteran administrators like Barbara Goldstein from San Jose who participated in the Green Room) were pleased that becoming sustainable was the thematic. And, being in Seattle we were surrounded by established public artists like Lorna Jordan, Buster Simpson, Dan Corson, and many others from the Pacific Northwest (Portland, OR) who have been creating sustainable artworks for years! However, the general feeling by most public artists was a real concern that if arts administrators are interested in greening everything from the selection process to what materials are being used to create works, that the focus is being taken off of the art. Many artists feel there are already so many limitations to doing public art that if they have to work in this theme or only use recycled materials, that they are not really creating ART. This is obviously debatable.

As of recent, funding has become stalled on many public art projects nationwide and everyone is sitting/waiting for stimulus funding to feed public art projects through transportation and water infrastructure projects. Public art programs that have already established an interest and built relationships with Environmental Services departments are poised to do some interesting projects in the coming years. A few exciting highly anticipated examples are the San Jose Water Pollution Control Plant
, Brightwater Wastewater Treatment Facility, and the City of Ventura’s Harbor Wetland's Project. And, in Canada, A Public Art Plan for the Expressive Potential of Utility Infrastructure.

In summary, it appears the time for public art that addresses environmental issues has finally arrived and artists who have been doing ecological art or sustainable art will have a better leg to stand on when applying for these more integrated and functional projects. Let's keep our finger's crossed. And, give special thanks to artists like Buster Simpson who won this year's Public Art Award and who paved the way for all of us.