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!