Great cities embrace great public art

By Guest Columnist FRANK MANN, senior director at Cushman & Wakefield of Georgia.

I consider myself very fortunate to have traveled a great deal throughout my adult life both for pleasure and for business. I am continually impressed and even amazed that major cities all over the world have made such strong commitments to the display of public (and in many cases private) art.

This becomes evident regardless of the city one travels to including older cities in the United States, like Chicago and New York, where many wonderful paintings and sculptures adorn their streetscapes, building lobbies and outdoor plazas and fountains. Most often parks as well as public spaces in general are integrated with art that creates a feeling of importance while also providing energy and sometimes even controversy.

Artistic elements from building architecture to paintings and sculpture can engage the minds of persons living in or visiting that city. We can experience an artist’s view reflecting both challenging as well as happy times. We can be touched by an artist’s expression, whether through an abstract vision or a whimsical interpretation. We can be moved by a stately bronze statue that honors an historic figure and or significant activity. We can use art to teach our children and create a bond between generations.

In all great major cities, art appears to be everywhere and a part of the DNA of that city.

International airports and train stations frequently have architecturally significant (and often stunning) designs. In many cities, even the ironwork for subway entrances is stately, almost magnificent in design.

Often, new bridges are artistically created such as a suspension bridge that becomes an exciting statement while still serving their functional purpose. These structures can create a sense of pride and cultural excitement about that city. Whether one visits Amsterdam or San Paulo, Paris or London, Barcelona or Cologne, Budapest or Beijing, Shanghai or Seoul, or many others….all great cities have significant public art.

Let me be clear, our city is not rejecting art; we are in fact embracing it, just at a much lesser level than we should or could. I am aware of the many other challenges we need to address as a growing city, and I know that we are now in a financial crisis that could be used as a reason for limiting the integration of art into new projects.

Some would also say that it is not fair to compare our young and very dynamic city to those cities that are much older. However, integrating art into the fabric of the city does not have to be a zero sum game, and the return on this investment would be significant.

It may boil down to a single word – commitment. Are we committed? This effort will have to come from a cooperative blend of public and private entities.

We do have some notable positive examples. When Georgia Tech constructed their hugely successful Hotel and Conference Center (on 5th street in Midtown) they made sure that money was devoted to works of art. The beautiful Chihuly glass chandeliers that adorn the College of Management building are now part of the legacy of that wonderful development.

When Cousins built Terminus 100 and 200 in Buckhead, they included in their budget artwork for outdoor sculptures that allow their visitors and tenants to embrace this art form.

The Atlanta Beltline is including art as an integrated component of their design. These are only three examples and while there are others, we are not anywhere close to approaching a meaningful level.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a visiting friend or business colleague state that “while in Atlanta” they want to see our famous sculpture garden or our famous (fill in the blank regarding an art piece). Yes, we can take them to the High Museum (and most often do) but is that really enough?

We missed an opportunity to build a work of art when we did not realize the fanciful 17th Street bridge design of Santiago Calatrava. Instead of having a signature landmark in our city, we ended up with an ordinary concrete bridge connecting Midtown with Atlantic Station.

We must continue to push and help beautify this city for many generations to come. We need to add that special something that all great cities have and embrace more public art forms. If we do, our future generations will be thankful we took that giant step. Our public art will stimulate the mind and create a pride for our residents and envy for our visitors.

Do we have the will, desire and commitment to do more? Will we look back ten or twenty years from now and see a new city that takes our breadth away? Do we have the leadership commitment that will allow us to realize this importance of this goal?

I hope we do…. I sincerely hope we do!

11 replies
  1. SG says:

    Great article! It ties in well with the October Arts Leaders in Metro Atlanta (ALMA) class which will the focus on Public Art. Last week Mayor Reed spoke to the ALMA class and said that “great cities have great arts and artists.” He seemed very supportive of the arts and committed to Atlanta becoming a great city. Hopefully, he will be able to secure increased funding for the arts in Atlanta.Report

  2. R Perkins says:

    Thank you for writing about this important component sorely lacking in Atlanta. I was born in Atlanta and have spent most of my life here, and thought it was great until I saw other cities, such as gorgeous Seattle, where there is art everywhere. A very clean city of great neighborhoods. Atlanta’s litter also detracts from its art. I understand Atlanta’s “Parks” budget (on a per capita basis and as a percent of total budget) is drastically less than most comparable cities (even during the glory years), and of course dramatically lower than DC, Chicago, and New York. Funding for metro Atlanta art projects is further diluted into some 30 odd municipalities and counties. Inefficient at its core. One bright spot is SCAD Atlanta, which will hopefully influence Atlanta’s art landscape during the years to come.Report

  3. Diane Erdeljac says:

    This article is very well written! Art welcomes local and international viewers to “participate” in what our city has to offer. It is well known that great cities honor art and use it as an avenue to showcase and define their identity. We need to be more progressive in our vision regardless of the challenges.Report

  4. MS says:

    As someone who has lived throughout Europe and the Middle East, I have come to appreciate what a city can offer its citizens and visitors. I have now lived here for 18 years and have seen Atlanta grow to become a truly international city. We are at that point in our growth where we must step back and look at who we are and what we wish to tell the rest of the world.

    Your article is timely and profound. And I wholeheartedly agree that we must continue to develop the needed leadership to present our city artfully to the world.Report

  5. SB says:

    Being a part of Atlanta’s architectural community and traveling to many great cities, the public art, as well as the architecture, defines the cities and how progressive they are. It is the first impression that welcomes you and enlightens your visit from “just a trip”, to “a great experience”.

    Atlanta is a young city and has had some incredible opportunities to bring in public art and make legacy statements which have turned into missed opportunities. Why? Where is the leadership in making the best choices?

    I recently experienced the Chicago Opera in Millenium Park and it was magical. Atlanta needs this magic to continue to attract the best of professional talent, educate its public, and sustain its growth. We need passionate leaders in our community to speak up and be involved. Kudos to Frank!!

    What a great article and voice for our city!Report

  6. carol cookerly says:

    Public art, great exhibits, private collections on display in, for example, office buildings…Atlanta is in short supply of each of these. It would be great to have more and better to intrigue the mind and create a greater degree of city pride and sophistication. Thanks for good thoughts, well written.Report

  7. AW says:

    I agree 100% with this article. Art should be part of our community’s fabric – something we can experience while we are out and about, not just something that is viewed in a museum. Thanks for expressing a much-needed thought!Report

  8. TZ says:

    While I agree that most great cities have great art, we are in the very tough position of having to first address more pressing needs including water, transportation and education.Report

  9. Tony Kimbrell says:

    This is an important issue. A great city deserves great art. An investment in public art is an investment that will attract visitors, new business, and the caliber of creative young people who want to live in a city that values the arts.Report

  10. David-ATL says:

    In order to truly be considered one of the great cities in the U.S. (much less the world) we cannot be limited by an either/ or perspective– We must have a great transit system, great infrastructure AND great art and architecture… Above and beyond sheer size or economic muscle, great art and architecture are the marks of all great cities—
    Nothing less will put Atlanta into that league that it so desperately desires to play in…Report

  11. Burroughston Broch says:

    I enjoy art in public places. I disagree that public art must mean art paid for by the public through taxation. To contradict David-ATL, let those to whom “the league Atlanta so desperately desires to play in” is important, pay for it.
    I for one am tired of paying for someone else’s dream with my taxes. Let Mr. Mann and Cushman & Wakefield commission a work of public art at their cost, if they are really serious. If Arthur Blank wants a new football stadium, let him and the Falcon’s fans pay for it.Report


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