Artists play key role in designing city landscapes
In many cities, engineers, city planners and architects are being joined by artists in creating innovative urban designs that are as beautiful as they are practical. Houston; Tacoma, Wash.; and San Diego are prime examples.
In Houston, artist Rick Lowe and friends rebuilt an entire block by salvaging 11 row houses in a historic but blighted neighborhood. The houses have become homes for young, single mothers as well as spaces to display local artists’ works.
In Tacoma, more than 120 artists collaborated to design the Promenade at Point Defiance Park. With an impressive view of Commencement Bay, the walkway is designed to encourage people to slow down and stroll through a carefully crafted sound garden or read one of the more than 25 poetry panels sandblasted into the walkway.
The sound garden capitalizes on a natural amphitheater created in the gully located halfway down the Promenade. Large stones mark points where, if one listens carefully, distinctly different environmental sounds can be heard. Additionally, 12 artists worked with 60 children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Pierce County to create mosaics that encircle small reflection pools.
Also on the West Coast, artists in San Diego are creating a vision for a new wastewater treatment lab along 40 acres of pristine coastline. That project received a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, in large part because of the artists’ involvement in fundraising, planning and the implementation efforts slated for the next four years.
“People are finally recognizing how important it is to have artists on board from the beginning, involving them at every design team meeting as well as every community meeting,” says Gail Goldman, public art coordinator for the city of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. For the community, artists can serve as a liaison to other design team members, helping bridge the gap between the community’s vision of the project and the vision seen by the architects and engineers.
“Artists inspire people to think about their own neighborhoods with creativity,” Goldman says. “When all the creative minds come together at the beginning, the result is a well-designed project.”
“Public art today grows along with the community from the ground up, a major shift from the previous top-down approach,” says Linda Martin, director of the Tacoma Arts Commission. “The very best public art resonates with the energy of the community.”
Artist Scott Bailey, a key contributor to the Tacoma project, says strong community support helped ensure the project’s success. The city of Tacoma, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma and the private sector, including the Boeing Co., all provided funding for the Promenade project.