By Rob White
October 12, 2015
The conversation continued on Monday between public art master planner Todd Bressi and the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission’s Steering Committee, a group formed from local community leaders to help guide the master plan process.
Todd began the discussion by introducing his associate Meridith McKinley. Meridith, a St. Louis-based public art consultant has a successful track record of developing public art initiatives in Missouri, Texas and Virginia and along with Todd has now set her eyes on helping Athens explore its potential.
Todd also briefly introduced the Committee to the concept of the visiting artists he’ll be bringing along with him during each of his visits. These artists are hand selected not only because of their talent and high-profile portfolio, but also because of their unique ability to connect with the community. This month’s visiting artist is Seitu Jones, whose project Create: The Community Meal brought 2,000 residents of Saint Paul, Minnesota together around a half-mile long outdoor dinner table. Seitu hopes to create dialogue about art in Athens by exploring stories from local residents about a need and passion we all share in common: food.
After introductions, Todd opened the floor to discussion about a few basic questions. What should public art do? What should a public art program do, and more specifically, what role should the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission take in developing public art?
The responses of the group were as varied as the backgrounds of those participating, but a few basic answers arose. Public art should enhance the aesthetic of a public place as well as contribute to and enhance community identity. A public art program should increase and encourage interaction with public spaces, explore concepts and issues and help the work of local artists as well as national and global reach a new and wider audience.
The opinion of the Committee was that the Cultural Affairs Commission should work alongside the mayor and commission to see these goals are prioritized as well as provide a resource for art and cultural education within Athens.
Concluding discussions were about where in Athens public art resources could best benefit the community. While specifics will be determined over the next year, special care was given that every community of Athens, including more traditionally overlooked areas like East Athens and the western corridor were just as high of a priority – if not more so – than downtown.
With the passion and experience present between the Steering Committee members, the Athens Cultural Affairs Commissioners and the public art master planners, Athens looks to stand a real chance at attaining an improved quality of life through art and cultural development in the years ahead.