Public art paints an upscale view in Arizona

Just east of Downtown Tucson a Rattlesnake Bridge, which was designed by Simon Donovan, won an award for the nation’s best road project from the Federal Highway Administration. This bridge demonstrates the creativity Tucson has with combining city projects and public art.

Arizona is filled with little knickknacks that make it a unique state. Art is incorporated everywhere in Arizona. When new walkways, parks or buildings are built art projects are added to the construction. Organizations also bring communities together during rough times, to add art murals in memory or in light of an issue.

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“The art added to projects has brought Phoenix and Arizona a lot of national and international media attention. Not many states incorporate art into their construction and buildings as much as we do,” says Ed Lebow, the public art program director of Phoenix.

With just 1 percent of the capital improvement cost of every construction project in Tucson going toward artwork, artists are limited to what they can make.

Organizations that sponsor public art “are flexible with the types of art, we incorporate integrated art, news media, expeditions, community centers, bridges, and recycling facilities,” says Kristen Van Cleef, the project manager at Scottsdale Public Art.

When seeking an artist for a public display, the Tucson Pima Arts Council publicly advertises for an artist when construction is being added to the city. “Artists can apply by submitting work and a panel of seven members of the community picks one to do the piece,” says Mary Wooten, the council’s project manager.

Wooten adds that “many artists get discouraged because they think it’s all about the architecture and that architectures will get chosen, but that’s not true. We pick artists because we want it to be about the art, not the structure.”

The artist must be “a trained and qualified artist to even be considered,” says Wooten.

Once the artist is chosen, the panel provides input so the artist has a background of what they are looking for.

“We don’t give guidelines. It’s pretty much an open-ended project, They just give the artists ideas on what they want and are expecting” Wooten continues.

Once the artist is done with their design, the panel either approves or denies it. If it is denied, the artist has to redo it or alter it to have it be what the panel is looking for.

Adding art to new structures adds more culture and creativity to the state and establishes Arizona as an art-friendly community.

“I have never seen so much public art before,” says David Kast, a student at the University of Arizona. Living in a town that doesn’t incorporate art to construction projects, Kast values the creativity of Tucson and Arizona.

“Its what makes Tucson, Tucson,” says Kast.

Viewing the mural on the north side of Tucon’s Epic Cafe on 4th Avenue of the boy and the elephant, Kast says “these are those little details that make Tucson so unique. In New York walls of buildings are just graffiti painted over by more graffiti which doesn’t make it art anymore.”

“We want to create a more beautiful and vibrant state, we want the culture of Arizona to be shown,” says Lebow.

Art organizations have gathered communities to come together to produce art in areas where there are high crimes rates, loitering and vandalism.

“Most art organizations are non-profit, so we lack a lot of funding to create extravagant art pieces” says Van Cleef; this is why volunteers are essential to public art.

“When I first heard anyone could help out with projects, I jumped right on it. I want to leave my mark here, and not many people can say they made public art that will last years, or even a lifetime,” Kast continues. Kast volunteered on helping a community paint a mural two years ago.

The Tucson Arts Brigade, a non-profit art and education organization, specializes in “Green Arts.” TAB incorporates community issues and presents them in an art form.

Art gives everyone the ability to show his or her creative side. The TAB organization provides children the freedom of showing personal thoughts and feelings toward a particular issue. For example, The Boys and Girls Club and members of the community at 29th and Columbus, have high crime rates, graffiti, loitering and a lot of vandalism.

The kids came together to come up with a mural called “Make the World a Better PLACE.” Place, a metaphor standing for People, Land, Arts, Culture, and Environment (P.L.A.C.A.) is incorporated in the art piece.

In January of 2011, more than 50 kids and members of the community came together to paint this mural.

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