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Huntington, WV, panel develops plan to encourage public art

By DAVE LAVENDER

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Downtown Huntington has been upping its public art game in recent years, and now the city wants to take it up a notch or two. The Mayor’s Council for the Arts on Thursday unveiled a new public art policy/master plan and has launched an online inventory of potential locations to encourage public art on city-owned property.

Pots of flowers surround an Artisans Express train and decorate the corner of 10th Street along 4th Avenue in downtown Huntington. The Mayor’s Council for the Arts has launched an online inventory of potential locations to encourage public art on city-owned property.
(Herald-Dispatch photo by Sholten Singer)

Thanks to Sam Ball, a senior at Marshall University majoring in graphic design in the School of Art & Design, the public – from artists and art patrons to businesses – can check out a section of the city’s website that has all of the information on the new public art policy/master plan as well as a map showing 25 viable downtown spots that are measured and ready for visual art.

The public can visit http://www.cityofhuntington.com/i-want-to/learn-about/public-arts-locations to see photos and descriptions of these sites on an interactive map Ball developed. He did the work through a two-part internship, first with the city’s Public Works Department to identify and document the locations and then with Bulldog Creative Services to embed the site images and descriptions into an interactive map.

 The downtown locations, many of which temporarily housed trains during The Artisans Express train replica fundraising project a few years ago, have been vetted with area businesses and with the city’s Public Works Department for safety and visual clearance, said Margaret Mary Layne, chairwoman of the Mayor’s Council on the Arts.

The master plan outlines a process through which public and private entities can cooperate in the selection, location, installation, display and maintenance of public art. It also establishes an application process for a public art exhibit on city-owned property. Before submitting a formal application, artists will be required to submit a concept paper for their proposed exhibit for review and approval by the Mayor’s Council on the Arts’ Public Art Policy Subcommittee.

Layne said the policy creates a pathway to public art that has never existed and council members hope becomes a well-worn path for area artists to regularly contribute vibrant public artworks throughout the downtown. They envision a result similar to the kind of artworks found in many creativity-driven cities in the region such as Louisville, Kentucky, and Asheville, North Carolina.

“Public art plays a crucial role in any successful community,” Layne said during a meeting with The Herald-Dispatch Editorial Board. “It can serve to inspire the citizenry, create a sense of unity and purpose, encourage creativity and celebrate the cultural heritage of the residents of this region.”

The Mayor’s Council for the Arts was formed in the wake of two arts summits that helped Huntington gain a certified arts community status. The council includes a range of citizens from nearly all art disciplines.

“Huntington is an arts city, and, for its size, it has the (Huntington Museum of Art) and the (Marshall) Artists Series, and this wonderful college at the university that is very strong, and the symphony, and all of these theater and literary groups, but there has never been a place for all of them to come together and interact,” Layne said. “And so this council provides that, and what this council wants to do is to make it easier for all of these individual artists and groups to participate in public art.”

Sandra Reed, director of Marshall University’s School of Art & Design and a committee member, said having the spaces defined and measured helps an artist create for a specific space. It helps remove the unknowns for the artist and gives artists a “straight-ahead tool” to use.

While the Council For the Arts is eager for artists to apply to create temporary public art in the 25 spaces, it has taken the initiative to help create some art with an assist from the Marshall University School of Art & Design.

With the help of Marshall University professor Mary Grassell and some of her students, the council unveiled in June the first Rainworks public sidewalk murals in downtown. Those murals appear when it is raining and have been placed along 3rd and 4th avenues in the heart of downtown.

Regionally known ceramic artist and author Carter Taylor Seaton, who is on the committee, said she has seen public art really transform the look and feel of a city. She lived in Columbus, Georgia, before moving back to Huntington. When she went back to visit in recent years, she was impressed how the presence of public art has renovated the look and feel of that city’s downtown.

“It gives such a vibrancy and a way to look at a city differently than you do if it is just flatscape and trees. I wanted to see that happen here, and I think this policy makes it very doable for artists to come up with an idea, present it to us to determine whether or not it is going to fit the criteria for the location, and then envision it and create it and put it there for the public to enjoy it.”

Reed said this next step of public art just builds on a foundation of beautification that she has seen since moving here – from Huntington in Bloom doing planters and flowers around the city, to MU students designing seasonal colorful banners.

“The idea of the temporary nature of public art, I think, is a way to thinking of public art as living art – kind of like a tree that goes into fall foliage,” Reed said. “It is something that is not a fixed constant, and once you experience it you are done with it, so a street corner or a venue can have something different on it from time to time and so you have a new surprise awaiting you when you go downtown.”

Art Space Initiative resources:

To find out more about Huntington’s Public Art Space initiative, visit the city of Huntington’s website at http://www.cityofhuntington.com/i-want-to/learn-about/public-arts-locations. The site has the public art inventory; public art master plan and application documents; and more information about the Mayor’s Council on the Arts, including its membership.

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