A Primer on Public Art, Burque Style
By August March
The public art program in Albuquerque is the result of many years of advocating, organizing, planning and placing substantial work by significant artists within the purview of its citizens. While sometimes controversial, yet other times overlooked, the public art in the Duke City provides a glimpse into the deep well of creativity that our civic culture can access.
The story of public art in this area began in 1978 with the passage of the Art in Municipal Places Ordinance. The stated intention of this law was to “promote and encourage private and public programs to further the development and public awareness of, and interest in, the visual arts and fine crafts.” At the time the public art ordinance was enacted, it was also hoped that such awareness would lead to better local job opportunities in the arts as well as encourage local architectural projects to incorporate art into municipal structures. For twenty years, between 1985 and 2004, the program began much growth and expansion under the aegis of program manager Gordon Church.
In order to facilitate these plans to elevate art in Burque, an Arts Board was established to oversee the program, including making recommendations to city leaders about the acquisition and funding of work from the city's capital improvements program or other funding sources. The board also oversees the criteria used to select artists and art works for the public art program. In adverse circumstances, the board, which consists of representatives from “all fields of the visual arts and fine crafts” advises the mayor on the “proposed removal, relocation or alteration of any public arts project or works of art in the possession of the city, but which are not [in] collections exhibitions of other city departments [like the Albuquerque Museum].”
While sometimes controversial, yet other times overlooked, the public art in the Duke City provides a glimpse into the deep well of creativity that our civic culture can access.
Finally, the board sets guidelines to carry out its mission as well as making recommendations to hizzoner Mayor Berry on the further development of the public art program. As a result of all this art action, the board is also tasked with seeking private donations to add to the program's efficacy.
Funds of the city's public arts program comes mostly from bonds. According to the ordinance, one percent of each bond is set aside to fund the procurement and placement of public art.
The art chosen to be part of Burque's Public Art Program has to meet specific requirements. These include that it be an integral part of a structure, that it must be located in a public place with public visibility and that it be at least as permanent as the lifetime of the bond funding which precipitated its acquisition and placement.
Bernalillo County also has a substantive, though slightly newer and smaller public art program. The county ordinance overseeing this particular pathway to publicly funded, highly visible and durable art works was passed in 1992 and revised in 1997.
Nan Masland, the Public Art Project Coordinator for Bernalillo county told Weekly Alibi, “Public Art has the power to inspire curiosity, encourage contemplation, facilitate dialogue, foster community engagement, and create a sense of place. Located throughout the county, the collection enhances quality of life through the acquisition of exceptional works of art by artists at various career stages. The Bernalillo County Public Art Collection includes 350 original works of art including large scale sculptures, paintings, photographs, prints and murals. Each piece is selected by a 10-member arts board with final approval by the Bernalillo County Commission. Two representatives are appointed from each of the five commission districts. The program is funded by one percent of voter approved general obligation bonds, with the exception of library bonds.”
Sherri Brueggemann, the manager of the City of Albuquerque Public Art Urban Enhancement Program added, “There are four levels of public art in the area. Besides city and county programs, there are programs administered by the state and federal government. All are specifically designed to bring art to the citizens of this area at a low cost with high visibility.”
Though these schemes seem, on the surface, to be complex and somewhat burdened by bureaucratic priorities, it has actually resulted in an effectively enchanting art exhibition that spans the city from the Sandia Mountains east of town to the Seven Sisters that bound the city's westside, as well as encompassing locations throughout the county and state.
Some of the work has engendered controversy—notably the legendary “Cruising San Mateo,” sometimes provocatively known as “Chevy on a Stick,” a sculpture by Barbara Grygutis that is notable for its wonderful use of ceramics as well as its evocation of Burque's active automobile culture.
For some reason, this piece outraged community members as well as former city councilor Hess Yntema when it was placed on the corner of San Mateo and Gibson in the early '90s. Yntema was quoted in an Associated Press article that was printed shortly after the work's unveiling that he viewed the sculpture as a monument “to waste and frivolity in local government.”
Gyrgrutis' response to the controversy speaks volumes about why the work is really important, artistically and civically, for our city's artistic growth and expression. Ultimately—whether viewers are pleased or dismayed by interactions with public art in this area—the sculptor's words echo the almost universal need to include art as an intrinsic part of human experience. At the time of the controversy, she said, “It's about the dreams and aspirations of our culture. … It's a very American image.”
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