Great Public Art Has the Power to Change Communities

Posted by Mrs. Jennifer Evins, Oct 20, 2016 0 comments

Great public art has the power to make us think, feel and—in some special cases—change the world.

In December 2014, we as a community endeavored to create such change by applying for a grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge. We called our proposed project Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light. From the beginning, this was a partnership among internationally recognized light and digital media artist Erwin Redl, the Chapman Cultural Center, the City of Spartanburg and its residents. In hopes of having an art installation in their neighborhood, residents had to draft letters of interest and commit to contributing to the project’s success.

We believe that a collaborative, neighborhood-based art-making process can enhance community policing and public safety efforts in conjunction with the annual National Night Out program. Artistically, we want to provide residents and visitors with unique and dramatic experiences while redefining public spaces, reducing crime, re-energizing our neighborhoods, educating, and fostering greater pride of place.

In June 2015, the City of Spartanburg was selected as one of four projects nationwide to take part in Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, placing it on the national and international public art stage. The new program supports temporary public art projects that celebrate creativity, enhance urban identity, encourage public-private partnerships, and drive economic development.

In the months since the announcement, countless community partners have rallied around this effort. Through the design process, Mr. Redl met with numerous residents and community leaders, helping to incorporate their feedback into his artwork.

Artist Erwin Redl discussing design concepts with Spartanburg residents.

On October 4, 2016, Mr. Redl’s art installations lit up neighborhoods across our city as part of Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light, and each neighborhood hosted parties and programming to celebrate this community milestone.

Mr. Redl treated smokestacks in Spartanburg as synchronized, large-scale canvases for high-powered multicolored lights that bathe the surface of the worn bricks.

So what do we expect to happen as a result of Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light?

First, by bringing site-specific art into Spartanburg neighborhoods where residents may feel isolated from traditional cultural assets, the project will foster greater understanding of both the artistic process and the transformative impact of public art. We will eliminate barriers to engagement as residents become part of the artistic process and help translate ideas into works of art, which is already happening in many parts of our community. By de-mystifying art and artists, the project will deepen our citizens’ personal commitment to art and culture as a shared value.

Second, our project will offer Spartanburg residents an innovative response to and break from the fear of crime, as well as the apathy that result from a lack of trust in the criminal justice system. The collaborative process with Mr. Redl has already improved relationships between residents and police officers, helping to overcome mutual suspicion and making it more likely for residents to report suspicious activity.

Finally, our project will strengthen the perception that the arts can and should play an integral role in Spartanburg’s social welfare, and that the arts are powerful change agents in regard to crime and other urban issues. It will model pathways by which art and artists can help break down interagency barriers and cross geographic boundaries to develop innovative solutions.

These are lofty, but attainable goals for this project and for our community, but they cannot be met without you. We need your participation. We need your passion for this city. To get involved, visit www.seeingspartanburg.com. You can also interact with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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