Tea and Toast Art Administrator

Posted by Anna Blyth, Sep 03, 2014 0 comments

Anna Blyth Anna Blyth

One thing I can say for sure is that every day for the last ten years I have had tea and toast for breakfast. In spite of that, I have managed to fashion a unique career in Arts Administration that has been far from stale. In December, I even mixed up my bread choices and after over a decade as a program coordinator and media manager at New Mexico Arts, I joined the City of Santa Fe Arts Commissionas Program Planner,and took my first shot of the real espresso that is public art.

So while I have worked in arts administration for many years, I am a newbie to Public Art. I should preface this to say that over the years I have dipped my toe in the public art pool and have always been aware of engaging public art on the periphery of my vision through the innovative TIME (Temporary Installations Made for the Environment) program presented by New Mexico Arts. I marketed and sent out press releases and attended wonderful openings and met phenomenal artists, but I had never been a part of the actual bricks and mortar of public art, it was just something I flirted with. I visited but never moved in. I had an understanding that calls for artists were issued, selection processes took place, and artists were selected for projects, but then it was like “voila” - a commission was installed and I encountered these beautiful works in public spaces with commissions that were thoughtfully incorporated into the unique architecture of the place. It was still just tea with a touch of milk.

In my new position, get out the coffee grinder because I am making a strong Cup of Joe, and bring on the organic butter for my toast. I have moved into the neighborhood and the residents have been nothing but welcoming. My first projects have been to promote and encourage participation in our Art on Loan Program. Art on Loan is an interesting approach to public art that creates an evolving collection of public art in our community. It is truly a partnership of private individuals and/or arts businesses and the public sector (City of Santa Fe Arts Commission) to enhance our public spaces in Santa Fe and increase exposure for participating artists. I was excited to sample the local blend and continue the work of this respected and well-established program. Wherein artists have not only contributed to their community through the loan of artwork at their own cost, but some have actually donated their work to the City of Santa Fe’s public art collection. Forget the French Vanilla and bring on the Sumatra.

In my first few months on the job, while sipping a medium roast, I have been privileged to meet with individual artists and gallery owners, as well as community members representing sites for public art. The process has been fascinating and inspiring. My first installation nearly ended in tears as the stucco in a lovingly crafted base crumbled due to our summer monsoon conditions. During the second installation, I watched with heart in hand as an improvised installer navigated a tall ladder with complete irreverence for height, just because he cared and wanted to get it right. The installation ended with hugs and this time tears of joy as a beautiful new artwork was put into place at our Community Convention Center. In the course of a work day, I may find myself at our Municipal Golf Course, Municipal Airport, or local architect’s office and often find myself thinking “is this for real? That I get to do this for a living?”

I have never taken the public art process lightly or assumed that projects “just happened,” but it’s been humbling and gratifying to experience first-hand from the technical assistance related to issuing a call for artists, to working with artists who are putting themselves and their work out there every time they apply. I am also learning that adaptability and a certain level of calm is required, as installations present their own unique challenges and opportunities. If you don’t have it by now, the public art field will certainly encourage the development of empathy and humor. I think I may be up for this public art business as it is a strong and hearty brew.

The Emerging Leaders in Public Art Blog Salon is generously sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University.

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