The Lincoln Journal Star is reporting today the Lincoln Partners for Public Art Development wants to turn Lincoln into a center for world class public art. First of all, I love the idea. Lincoln has a solid foundation of art from which it can build, including UNL’s Philip Johnson-designed Sheldon Museum of Art. And public investment in the arts reaps an even larger economic impact (Michigan has made $51 for every $1 apparently).
Even though the investment is quite encouraging (see these Journal Star articles for more on the abstract piece, giant head, and my favorite), for this investment to work the city must do more than attain and install world class art. A “build it and they will come may” attitude might work, but if I’m betting hundreds of thousands of dollars, I want better odds than “might.” So here’s my proposition, Lincoln. Buy and display the art. Then give people a reason to celebrate it.
I should add the disclaimer that my thinking is entirely colored by the experience of hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1970, the year after the city installed Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse, the city hosted the first Festival of the Arts which continues to attract thousands of area residents downtown for food, music, and lots of family friendly fun (the brochures write themselves). Grand Rapids has continued to invest in art, with the more recent Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Rosa Parks Circle (near which the city’s art museum built an impressive new building), and most recently, ArtPrize, which brought a reported $15.4 million to the city in 2011.
Lincoln may not have the same benefactor class that helps enable Grand Rapids to undertake such bold projects, but Lincoln and its community members are clearly interested in investing in the city through the arts. I’m not suggesting Lincoln just create an ArtPrize-West, but giving people a reason to enjoy the city’s art is just as if not more important than having art throughout the city. Of course, this notion isn’t revolutionary to Lincoln. Just look at First Fridays, Jazz in June, or one of the many local music festivals (Zoofest was this very weekend). But if there is a plan to encourage the public’s interaction with these new works of public art, the plan needs to be touted alongside the proposed works of art themselves. An investment in public art will lead to a better quality of life for the residents of Lincoln. However, life in Lincoln will improve not just because art is beautiful or culturally enriching, but because art can bring tangible economic benefits and encourage further urban investment. So I hope to hear soon about Lincoln’s plan to celebrate (preferably yearly) its new influx of public art.