Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sprout Fund Mural Preliminary Design Exhibition, Thursday, May 15 @ Concept Gallery.

Almost exactly a month ago I posted about my participation in the public arts, and my involvement on the Sprout Fund Public Art Advisory Committee. We held meetings to select a pool of artists who would then go before the communities with their proposals. We also chose the locations that would receive murals. I mentioned how impressed I was to learn how much effort was invested in making sure the selection process was as unbiased as possible. I couldn't go into any detail about the specifics of that meeting because everything said in that room was meant to be held in confidence. This policy no doubt helps ensure that the committee members feel free to share their opinions without provoking ill feelings outside of the meeting.

I do have to admit to having some difficulties in putting aside personal feelings about art and artists. Naturally it is expected of me to bring my aesthetic sensibilities to the process. Not only is individual taste at-play in the judging, but it is in fact significant overall in the decision-making process. It is not enough to be an adept craftsmen- prospective muralists must appeal to a group with wide-ranging preferences and attitudes toward art. The assessment of art is inherently subjective, as I've mentioned before on this blog. However, the people on the committee would not have been chosen had they not been recognized as respected arbiters of taste- at least in the view of the Public Art Program Manager.

Obviously with a dozen people on the committee, one's personal preferences will not always be selected in the end. That is exactly as it should be. Still it can be difficult to see one of your favorites rejected, especially if he/she happens to be a friend as well. Pittsburgh is not a huge city, and if you make it around to the galleries, you quickly meet many of the more prominent artists in town. I've been going to openings and exhibits for at least five years, and so I know many of the creators on a first name basis. It's inevitable that I would like at least several of them. Conversely, there is always the possibility that I don't like someone that applies. It's just as important in such a case to remain as objective as possible.

Anyway, for at least this year, we are done giving our input. And we were only responsible for narrowing the pool by less than half. From the remaining proposals, the communities will select who they want to work with. This year there were enough quality applications to provide several options for each mural site. There is no way to sway the community selections. Many of the people choosing among these artists will have conventional tastes. Others no doubt will have very idiosyncratic ideas about art. Ultimately there is nothing we can do to ensure that our favorites make it through to the end. That may or may not be lamentable, depending on your perspective. I will say that we juried through a wide range of creators, and many of them do more challenging work than what I've seen in murals currently around town.

But I don't need to tell you all of this... you can see for yourself! This Thursday, May 15th is the date for the Preliminary Design Exhibition. It opens at the Concept Art Gallery in Regent Square (1031 South Braddock Avenue), and runs from 6 until 8PM. This is your opportunity to compare and contrast, and see how strong the field actually is. Each artist will present their preliminary ideas for the murals themselves. In many cases this will be the first time they are seen by anybody other than their creators. These designs were not required to be completed and turned in with the initial portfolios that were evaluated by the Advisory Committee. So they are going to be new to me as well. I can't wait to see what this talented group of artists have come up with.

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