July 21, 2021
E/D Corner: Perspectives on Activating the ‘Public’ in Public Art.<br />
Each month our Public Art Manager Phoebe Avery shares her thoughts on public art. I was deeply motivated to continue that conversation from a personal perspective in this issue.
Earlier this week, I engaged in a wonderful conversation with a long-time Restonian on a multitude of topics. At some point during the conversation, they began to vividly recount an experiential time with public art. I look forward to interviewing this person for a future issue of Emerge. Our conversation catapulted my thoughts into my own specific moments with public art.
I would like to share five of my favorites within the last few years, in no particular order.
Growing up I listened to so many different genres of music due to the varied generations, ethnicities, and personalities within our household. One of my father’s favorite songwriters is Bob Dylan. Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime … didn’t you? My father still sings it. I became enamored with Dylan’s exquisitely toned, lyrical storytelling. The first time I visited Minneapolis, for me, it was all about Prince. But the largest Prince mural was not quite up. I was in town for a National Arts Strategies conference. The day I listened to and then met the mother of Philando Castile, who was fatally shot by a Minneapolis-area police officer during a traffic stop, I happened to sit next to the woman who was overseeing much of Minneapolis’ public art. She told me that if I liked Bob Dylan to go down and visit the mural on Hennepin Avenue. I remember the experience so well. Imagine Minneapolis in December – so intensely cold days and nights that the entire week I mostly took the Minneapolis Skyway System. An exception was occasioned by a trip to the celebrated First Avenue music club where a DJ friend was playing. After I was only about two minutes into a 10-minute walk, but I remember my face freezing off. I immediately regretted also venturing to see the Dylan mural. But right at the corner of Hennepin Avenue and North 5th Streets, I saw it adjoining an almost empty parking lot (it was very early morning). Instantly warm blood returned to my face. It is an incredible take on different Dylan eras, full of bold colors and the words The times they are a-changin’ – lyrics taken from his 1964 song of the same title. It was beautiful, and I probably stood in the cold taking photos until my fingers went completely numb.
It was the summer of 2017, and I was studying in Mérida, Yucatán, México, with a group of international students and faculty in an arts integration series through the Habla Institute, featuring Latinx women writers. I thought it would be great to rent an Airbnb from two other estadosunidenses (U.S. Americans) and bring my son. But who would watch him during the daytime? My parents, of course! My father and I decided to grab some cold milk since it was Mexico during the summer and insanely hot. Air conditioning there was too expensive so only two rooms in the house had units in them. After trying at three stores, we realized it was a futile effort (that I still laugh about!). Unlike in the States, milk in that part of Mexico is all boxed. While lost amid the streets, we listened to great music, ate the most delicious tacos and visually drunk in all the street art. The experience is indelibly etched in my mind. Hours later we finally made it back to the house, where my son was fast asleep and my mother sweltering.
It happened to be the 10-year anniversary of James Turrell’s Skyspace installation at Crystal Bridges. I was studying there that summer through the National Art Education Association’s School for Art Leaders. Our director Dennis took our cohort to this incredible space where sound, light and time all played a part in the performance at dusk. We packed in there, pre-COVID, and sat within half-inches of one another. Additionally, other folx, not part of our large cohort of 25 people, similarly packed in like sardines to look up at the beautiful, changing panorama of sunset colors. After, we looked at our time-lapsed videos and saved them as miniature treasures. To top off the experience, a few of my group asked me to sing a song within the beautiful acoustical space. I sang a song from my childhood – His Eye Is on the Sparrow — to close out the night. We exited into mosquitoes and darkness, but our hearts were full.
It was always an adventure with my New Orleans friend — bikes, beignets, dive bars, and weird museums like The Museum of Death — every time I visited. This time I was there for the American Alliance of Museums Conference, and did we have an incredible time trying Michelin-star restaurants and visiting museums where I encountered friends’ artworks. One of the nights my friend begged me after conference sessions to come meet him at an unfamiliar hotel for an impromptu dance party. My son was safely with his father in Reston, VA, at the time, so I joined for the night adventure. As we walked back on the streets, we discovered a Banksy mural, which apparently my friend had been seeking for months. There she was – a little girl standing under an umbrella, in black on the white brick. It’s a shame to find out that some folx have tagged her up since I had the ability to experience her in purer form only a few short years ago.
It was my first Christmas away from my family, instead visiting with my partner’s family. His French-Canadian parents hosted us in their home that winter, and I still remember them saying it was the warmest winter they experienced in some time. Through learning quick phrases in French, and, of course, learning all of the bad words first – I had a fun time with my son discovering all Montreal had to offer. We visited the beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica (years later we had the opportunity to visit Notre-Dame-de-Paris), walked around Old Montreal, rode the Montreal Underground, and enjoyed the stacked box look of Habitat 67. Yet, I remember my six-year-old son was not impressed until something spoke to him – magnificent sound-creating aluminum see-saws. I still remember how happy he was, running from one side of the seesaw to the other, astounded at the sound emanating from them. It finally felt like Christmas.
Executive Director, Public Art Reston
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