The world is my oyster

This week you find me on the North Shore in the Quality Tire waiting room experiencing a solid case of the Mondays. I woke this morning feeling a bit sore (having picked weeds and planted yesterday). I hopped in the shower to find that I was out of shower gel- the only logical thing to do was use Denise’s product. Smelling of some flower or other I rolled downstairs to find the boys…being boys. After shoveling the remainder of their breakfast in their precious little mouths, we made our way into the car and down the street. The thud, thud, thudding was instantly recognizable- flat tire. Quick u-turn, back down the street, transfer the boys to D’s car and off to school. Two blocks into our journey I realized that my lovely wife’s gas tank had negative gas in it. Yes, negative- no gas, running on fumes. A quick detour to the finest Kanku’s we could locate remedied the situation (being the petty man that I am, I put $1.87 worth of gas in the tank. Yes, I know that’s terrible). I dropped the little angels off, made it home, gave D a kiss for the day and returned to the task a hand. The rest of the episode went like this: scraped the shit out of my knuckles during the tire changing process, encountered a lug nut that was seemingly epoxied tight, put the spare on backward, had to redo the entire process, then drove at 20 mph to the North Shore to see my tire folks. A tremendous pain in the ass, to be sure. The bright side, however, is that all of that shit happened and I am now in a comfortable waiting room chair, all before 8:55am- the rest of the day is my oyster. Onward…

Update: upon my return home from the tire store, I realized that I lost a check. Said check had been inadvertently discarded and was found in the garbage in, amongst other things, a few dozen shucked oyster shells. I bullshit you not.

I was all set to write about US-27 and the remarkable occurrences we’ve seen over the week. I’m still in the process of digesting what has happened and trying to figure out what it really means (I think I have a pretty good idea, but time will tell).  I will write about that soon, but in the meantime, I’ll share a bit of my weekend.

I was asked to participate in a Sunday morning panel for the Mid-south Sculpture Alliance. Yes, my thoughts exactly, things must be pretty spare in the sculpture world if they’re asking me to be on a panel. But seriously, it was a very good session. The session was called Contemporary Focus: Creating the Future. My fellow panelists were two architects: Tom Bartoo (a local), and a young man from Baltimore whose name escapes me (nice guy, full beard).  We were asked, in essence, to weigh in on with our thoughts on the future of public art and its role in city building.

 Our session started started the session with screening of this video. The moderator of the session was really fired up about it, and I can see how she was inspired. What those folks are doing is fine, it’s really cool stuff. Taking the lead of the video, our conversation inevitably turned to the concept of integrating “art” and infrastructure.  I use quotes because it is my belief that when we ask art to do something, it’s not really art anymore, it has become design.

I am a fervent believer in design.  I think that everything we build, especially as it relates to the public realm, should not only serve a purpose, but do so in a way that contributes to the visual quality of place. For instance, when I was at the design studio, a great deal of time and effort was spent designing things such as pedestrian lighting and water towers. The raison d’ĂȘtre of infrastructure elements is to “do something”, in those cases providing illumination and storing water. If these elements are designed well, they accomplish their primary mission in a way that also contributes to the visual quality of their environment. We took the concept a step further to create elements that not only served their purpose and looked good, but did so in a way that was unique to Chattanooga. Sure, it might be simpler to buy these things off the rack like every other city does, but the marginal cost of design and fractional increase in price were more than offset by the quality of the final product. This is a good thing, and a concept that the city embraced for some time. Designing infrastructure in a way that is visually pleasing and that reinforces our uniqueness is great- but it is not art, it is good design.

Art is another concept altogether. By incorporating public art into our city, and incorporating it into our infrastructure projects we are making a statement about what we as a community value. The point that I argued during the panel discussion was that art need not have to “do something” to have value. In fact, in its truest sense, art needs no justification at all to exist. The only justification has to come from the community. At one point, the city agreed to put 1% of the cost of their projects into connected public art projects (I don’t know if this is still the case or not). I think that’s a good step toward the creation of a public realm that expresses the value of the community and is something that creates a benefit for all citizens. Art for its own sake is the hallmark of communities that embrace quality of life as a valid public enterprise. These are the communities that will win the competition for the creative class, tourism, and outside investment.

Of course, there is a vocal segment of the population that detests any public expenditure on anything public art. On some level, that concern is understandable. Economics are important. Quality of life, however, is important as well. I want to live in a city that is more than an assembly of low-bid, generic elements cobbled together as fiscal-year budgets allow. It is a question of investment and future return. Should we eat our kernels of seed corn because it’s in hand, or should we plant it in order to harvest several ears in the future?

No comments:

Post a Comment