This story first appeared on Cowboy State Daily
By Joshua Wood, Travel/Business Journalist
It can be difficult to measure the direct economic benefits of public art. For those who support these programs, the indirect benefits are worth the cost.
Instilling pride in the community is one of the biggest investments, said Laura McDermit, director of the Laramie Public Art Coalition.
The organization is supported by a combination of public funds such as 5th Penny Sales Tax revenue from the City of Laramie and Albany County and private donors.
“It’s really an investment in the community and the people who live there,” McDermit said. “Their pride, excitement and livability of a place translates into someone wanting to come and visit here.”
A common theme among communities and organizations supporting public art programs is the sense of community pride that the programs foster.
“One of the best examples is our city administrator,” said Kim Love, owner of Sheridan Media. “When he considered moving here, he was impressed with the carving program and said that was why he wanted to be at Sheridan. He made a statement, by the community, about how they felt about their community.
Sheridan’s Public Art Committee was formed in 2001 by then-Mayor Jim Wilson. In Gillette, a similar program, the Mayor’s Arts Council, was established in 2003. Through both programs, each city has more than 120 bronze sculptures lining the streets.
Each year, up to eight sculptures are loaned to the permanent collection for 12 months. The two cities each use a similar program that pays artists a fee or stipend to borrow their sculpture, during which time the piece is available for purchase by the public.
After each year, at least one sculpture is purchased by the city for the collection through fundraising from private donors. At Gillette, over 100 sculptures have been sold over the past 15 years through this program.
“People who visit Gillette are amazed at the number of artworks we have in and around Campbell County that are part of the Mayor’s Arts Council,” said Stephanie Murray, community engagement manager for Visit. Gillette. “They’re amazed at how many people donate art to the city to be saved here for people to enjoy.”
Community pride through investment in public art is the sole reason Pittsburgh native McDermit and her husband moved to Laramie.
“We needed to be in a space that was excited about artwork and doing new and interesting things,” McDermit said. “We certainly saw that in Laramie.”
According to Stacy Crimmins, studies show that arts and culture are among the top reasons someone moves to a community. Crimmins, in addition to being a member of the Platte Valley Arts Council and coordinator of the Platte Valley Public Art Project, is a former CEO of the Saratoga/Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“More than one person told us, when they were evaluating communities to move to, that (public art) was a deciding factor,” Crimmins said. “I heard that a lot at the Chamber of Commerce.”
While the success of tourist attractions and events can be measured by accommodation demand and sales taxes, public art is more difficult to track by traditional means.
“It’s hard to specifically measure the dollar amount in terms of the extra dollars for a community that public art brings, but it’s certainly a draw for tourists,” said Rachel Clifton, deputy director of the Wyoming Arts Council, who lives in Laramie.
Downtown Laramie is full of colorful murals by a variety of artists. These murals, Clifton said, encourage travelers to stop and explore the community.
“That leads to spending money on shopping or lunch,” Clifton said.
Love believes the public art program has had a positive effect on tourism in Sheridan. While the bronze sculptures are purchased through private donations, the Town of Sheridan supports the program through operating expenses.
“It’s kind of hard to measure because we’re not like a museum where you can count people walking through the front door, but just look at the number of people posing with sculptures and stopping for them. admire,” Love said.
Because this money can be difficult for public art to trace, it can also make it difficult to apply for grants to support public art. Thus, project coordinators sometimes have to be creative.
This is the case of the Bossert collective in Lander when it applied for the MOVE (Making Opportunity for a Viable Economy) grant from Fremont County. All the projects supported by the Collectif Bossert are subsidized.
“The way I wrote this grant and the way I presented it to the curators is when people see public art that they stop,” said Stacy Stebner, project coordinator and co-founder of the Bossert collective. “I can’t guarantee that because we put a giant mural on the wall, every business will see a $10,000 increase every year. It’s really hard to quantify the exact impact.
Without specific numbers, Stebner looked to other western towns that had invested in public art such as Taos, New Mexico and Lakewood, Colorado.
“It completely transformed these downtown spaces,” Stebner said. “There are more people stopping, there are more businesses that can stay, there are more businesses that are moving in, there are fewer empty storefronts and they attribute it to this investment in the public art.”
Support your local artist
One economic aspect of public art that most people may not think about, Clifton said, is how it benefits local artists. This is one of the reasons she supports more funding for public art programs.
“I am always a strong supporter of increased funding for public art. I think it’s a great way for communities to invest financially and culturally in their communities and support their local artists,” Clifton said. “You pay the people who live and work in this community a living wage to help beautify and improve their community. »
Supporting local artists is exactly what the Platte Valley Arts Council does with its public art project using six local artists, although that may not have been the original intention.
“The way we structured it was to try to install a very small board and make sure we could handle what we were doing,” Crimmins said. “We chose them (the artists) based on the fact that we knew their work.”
One of the artists is the late Jerry Palen, creator of the syndicated “Stampede” comic strip. An oversized comic panel will be Palen’s contribution to the project. Another artist, Jamie Waugh, will create a tribute to the late cowboy poet Chuck Larsen.
Represent the underrepresented
Public art advocates say supporting local artists also means giving a platform and voice to a demographic that may feel underrepresented in their community. This is the case of the Bossert Collective and its ongoing project with two recipients of the Wyoming Arts Council’s Native Art Fellowship.
Colleen Friday, who is Northern Arapaho, and Talysa Abeyta, who is Eastern Shoshone, paint a mural on the side of the Lander Bake Shop with help from fellow artist Adrienne Vetter. Friday has contributed murals for the Laramie Public Art Coalition and combines his artistic style with that of Abeyta for Lander’s mural.
Friday has a master’s degree in range ecology that found its way into the mural via a painting of fireweed, one of the first plants to grow after a forest fire. Abeyta has a background in ledger art, which places modern images on historical ledger paper.
“They designed the mural to look like a giant piece of art, combining their two elements,” Stebner said. “So there’s the willowherb, and then the image of Talysa is this really big buffalo that kind of runs you off the wall.”
The mural painted by Friday and Abeyta is quite different from the bronzes seen in Lander. Stebner said there was a reason for that.
“We have this great little community that borders the Wind River Indian Reservation, a community of 50,000 Native Americans, and it’s really not represented at all here in Lander,” Stebner said. “Walking through Lander you would have no idea the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes are right there.”
The Friday and Abeyta mural is an example of how public art can be used to make a statement, Clifton said.
“Lander, in particular, and other communities are really looking to public art as a way to not only hire Indigenous artists and people of color, but also have those works directly reflect their lived experiences. “Clifton said. “It really gives a voice to the artist and the people living in this community.”
Art for all
According to Crimmins, an important characteristic of public art is its accessibility.
“It means families can access art without any barriers. In Saratoga and Encampment, we have an underserved population,” Crimmins said. “There aren’t a lot of artistic and cultural opportunities here, that’s why the arts council (Platte Valley) exists to try to provide those opportunities.”
Breaking down barriers for more random encounters with art makes those experiences more special, Clifton said.
“It helps to soften the edges a bit and can help create encounters with art on people’s own terms,” Clifton said.
There may still be barriers between members of the public and public art, Stegner said, due to its location in business and commercial districts.
“We like to think it’s for everyone and that’s because it’s public, but it’s also been placed in a specific area to generate commercial revenue,” Stebner said. “Not everyone in our community has the ability to stop at these places and spend money in these places.”
Stebner said it’s important to look beyond the economic benefits that public art can have for a community.
“It also provides visual stimulation and something really beautiful to look at, even though people aren’t going to stop and it won’t have an economic impact,” Stebner said. “It always contributes to a quality of life.”
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