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DCASE Public Art Forum: An ArtReach volunteer reports from the field

We’ve been thinking a lot about public art because of several major public art collaborations ArtReach is involved in with Ravenswood Elementary, Lake View High School, Henry Elementary, and Goethe Elementary. ArtReach volunteer, Claire Haasl, has experience and a Masters of Public Art Studies. She provides some food for thought on the “public” part of public art:


A few weeks ago I attended Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Public Art Forum.  It was my understanding that this forum was a follow up to the new Cultural Plan set forth by the City of Chicago last year.  Now that our fine city has a new and exciting Cultural Plan, DCASE is on the move to develop a New, Comprehensive Public Art Plan for the City.  Being one of the first cities in the country to initiate a Percent-for-Art plan back in 1978, we now have legislation that is 34 years old. So, you can see why it is definitely time to and brainstorm some new ideas and write some new rules.

I got the feeling while attending the forum that DCASE has an idea of what they would like to be tackled while formulating a new Percent-for-Art program.  I could tell that there were ideas already floating around DCASE about what to include in this expansion, and although they were most likely hoping for some great, grand ideas to take shape during the 20 minutes we were allowed to discuss six different topics (see below), they are prepared to do what they think they should.
I wasn’t sure if I should be happy about that or not.  Because on one hand, they seem to know and be prepared to put up/put on some non-traditional public art, but on the other hand public art is a sticky subject that to those without a role or an education in Public Art seems sort of like an all-inclusive-please-the-masses type of thing. For DCASE to involve the public in a discussion about the art that will go up in their public space is one thing but to actually take the public seriously is another.
I don’t want to say or assume that DCASE was placating attendees, but sometimes, with public art, especially if you want it to be well received AND somewhat meaningful, you can’t leave all the idea construction to the public.  You have to leave that to professional artists and arts administrators.  So what is the point of a public forum, if you know all the questions and the answers?  To placate the public? You tell us, readers…..
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