Take Me to Tomorrowland

Posted by Jennifer Lieu, Sep 05, 2014 0 comments

Jennifer Leiu Jennifer Lieu

I walked away with three things upon finishing my graduate studies in Public Art and Urban Planning: a diploma and two questions. How can I help make art that is more accessible intellectually, emotionally and physically? What are alternative and sustainable income resources for artists to make a living besides selling art in galleries and trying to find work as a tenured art professor? These questions follow me to every informational interview I participate in and panel discussion I attend. I continually think about them.

These questions shaped how I was going to accomplish my goals and led to my interest in public art. I identified that I want to help artists produce artwork that people can relate to, and would be willing to see without feeling like they have to be dragged into a museum. I also want to help connect artists with alternative resources for income and skill growth. When discussing these goals with my peers and mentors, I have been encouraged to learn more about public art. Now that I am working in the field, I find that these goals continuously resonate with me and inform questions about my future in public art.

Finding New Places for Public Art

One of the biggest challenges working in public art is being able to grow professionally in a field with limited resources. As many of us have observed, budgets for arts and culture are usually the first to go when resources are limited. Starting a career in a field that isn’t able to expand or grow is challenging for emerging leaders like me because positions are constantly being cut instead of added, which makes it difficult to advance or experience any kind of longevity with an organization.

Another challenge is getting people to see intrinsic value in public art. As the Civic Art Project Assistant at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, I am fortunate enough to work with a variety of County departments that see value in public art as effective public engagement. It’s inspiring to see how art can be used as a tool to bring transparency, awareness and understanding of complex issues, and to help us view these topics in a new way.

I would love to expand my career in public art by working with artists to create new methods for public engagement with technology or biotech companies. Being able to connect artists to resources that these types of companies have to offer would open the door for so many conversations and ways of seeing our world. Don’t the possibilities for art making seem endless with a 3D printer?

Looking Beyond the Horizon

Most of the sessions offered at the AFTA Public Art Pre-conference reflected on the past (PAN Year in Review and tumultuous histories of public art) and answered questions about the present (how to work more effectively with artists and other partners). While conversations about the past and present are important ones to have, I observed that visionary discussions about the future of the field were few and far between. It surprised me that this national venue for conversations about public art didn’t focus more on what public art will look like in 25, 50 or even 100 years.

I was also surprised at the small number of conference attendees in my peer group and did not come across many first time attendees like myself. Most I met have been in the field for quite some time and have attended many AFTA conferences. I was hoping to meet more of my peers working at public art agencies across the country to talk to them about their day to day challenges. Conversations about the future are important to me because I want to know how experienced leaders see emerging leaders like me fitting into the picture. How can we anticipate change or evolution of a field without a vision or discussion about what is beyond the horizon?

My Tomorrowland

Over the next several years I would like public art organizations to increase opportunities for jobs and professional development for emerging leaders. Currently, there are few entry-level opportunities in the public art field that have potential for continued long-term growth. With hard work and coaching from my colleagues, my position at the Arts Commission has grown from part-time Civic Art Intern to full-time Civic Art Project Assistant. I feel lucky to work alongside and learn from a team of experienced and visionary leaders. It is important that these types of opportunities be made available for people with the drive and passion for this work to ensure the longevity and relevance of the field.

My first assignment as an intern at the Arts Commission was Project Willowbrook. Being at the conference when Project Willowbrook was announced as a PAN Year in Review award winner was a marker in time that showed me how far I have come and how much closer I am to getting the answers I have been searching for. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping a lookout for “Public Art 2039: A visionary discussion about the future” in the session schedule for the 2015 AFTA Conference.

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


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