Don’t be afraid of public artwork that strongly demonstrates its origination in ethnic visual traditions. Murals can be show people from different backgrounds or painted in the art traditions of non-western cultures. Why can’t public sculptures be bronze castings of African masks. Why can’t ceramic murals clearly originate in the traditions of Spanish or Moroccan wall and floor tiles?
In the 19th and 20th century, the dominant art establishment and intellectuals believed that progress and newness in art came exclusively from the artistic inventions in Europe and then the Americas. Still today, despite the great respect in museums and universities for all traditions in art, the vast majority of public art is dominated by euro-american art.
One major flaw of public art thinking is that works from other cultural traditions should only be seen in the neighborhoods of those ethnic communities. It is sometimes known as “race matching”. Art about or by African Americans should be seen in African American neighborhoods, not in the center of downtown.
Given the 150 years of public art in the USA and Florida, some catching up may be required in African American, Caribbean, Mexican and South American neighborhoods. Pride in community through public art is still a valuable service.
In the 21st century, many mature and talented artists exist from any cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Many ethnic traditions have been continued by contemporary artists and craftspersons. Perhaps ethnic and cultural diversity in a public art collection is the true new future.
Across the world, artists are now embedding themselves in communities of people before imagining any art or art project. The community and artist work together to discover the kinds of projects that address areas of community concern. The artist provides the leadership to bring people together that might not connecting at the moment. Then the artist imagines art projects that the community implements together.
These artists work under a number of names including Socially Engaged Artists, Social Practice, Artist-in-Residence or Community Artists. Several American universities offer special training in this cultural role for artists.
To celebrate Dr. King, consider visiting the West Palm Beach memorial in Currie Park. The memorial was created in 2004 through the leadership of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Coordinating Committee. Here is the description from their website:
“The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park, located at 2200 N. Flagler Drive, was completed in 2004. The park is the largest of its type in Florida and one of the largest memorials commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. anywhere in the Southern United States. The park contains numerous plaques and photos commemorating Dr. King’s life, family and speeches, interspersed with highlights of the civil rights movement. The highlights are a bronze sculpture of Dr. King backdropped by cascading water on a granite wall and the display of flats, representing areas of great influence to King’s life, waving over the Intracoastal. This park was chosen as only one of five of PSC MILLENNIUM Legacy projects.”
To celebrate African American heritage, be sure to see Augusta Savage’s “Gimin” in the Norton Museum of Art permanent collection. Savage lived in West Palm Beach before moving to NYC and joining the artists of the Harlem Renaissance. More information on Savage here.
On January 16-19 weekend, the MLK Jr. Coordinating Committee has organized many events. Click the image to view the calendar.
As teenager and young woman, Augusta Christine Savage lived and worked in West Palm Beach in the early 20th Century. With the help of local poet George Currie, she was admitted to Cooper Union in NYC and soon her sculptures became a part of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. For the 1939 world fair, she was commissioned to create a sculpture.. The magnificent work was lost, but bronze “souvenirs” are still in existence.
LETS RECAST THE ORIGINAL SCULPTURE FOR WEST PALM BEACH
Idea: Public artwork at the WPB train station interpreting the first act of Gershwin’s 1925 musical “Tip Toes”
Idea: Public artwork about African American life in the 1920s based on Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” that he wrote in Palm Beach during 1935.
As early as 1925, George Gershwin’s visits to Florida, and the public’s fascination with the state’s real estate boom, inspired his Broadway musical Tip-Toes, set in Palm Beach. Gershwin spent the winter of 1933 at a Palm Beach home on South Ocean Boulevard that oil tycoon Emil Mosbacher had rented with his wife and three children. It was there that Gershwin wrote variations on I Got Rhythm. And in 1935, after studying black culture in Charleston, S.C., he returned to the island to write much of the groundbreaking opera Porgy and
“Palm Beach is once more itself after a few days of cold weather,” the Gershwin wrote. “I’m sitting in the patio of the charming house Emil has rented, writing to you after orchestrating for a few hours this morning . . . it goes slowly, there being millions of notes to write.”
ACT ONE: ” TIP TOES” — At the train station in West Palm Beach, flirtatious Rollo Fish Metcalf is surprised to see his socialite wife, Sylvia, planning to give a party for her millionaire brother, Steve. Steve is set to inherit the family glue factory. Rollo agrees to wait for vaudevillian entertainers, the “Komical Kayes” (Tip-Toes Kaye (a woman), Al Kaye and Uncle Hen Kaye). The Kayes are so poor that Tip-Toes had to travel in the luggage to avoid paying for a ticket. They stay in Palm Beach to see if they can find a millionaire for Tip-Toes to marry.