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The “Public” of Public Art

In the most simple explanation, it is our stance that once an artist completes a public work, it then rests in the admiration, ownership and protection of the community in which it’s situated. Ownership meaning, a prideful and purposeful sense of welcoming the art into their space, as it becomes a part of the culture and context of their neighborhood. Protection meaning, with the embrace of the community in ownership and warm reception to the public art, that there is unwritten suggestion and practice for visitors and immediate community members alike to respect the property and space that the art occupies.

In 2018, a mural on Bailey and Amherst that I had the opportunity of collaborating with fellow artists on was defaced by racist propaganda. Before the artists and mural funders were aware, the community took immediate action to begin tending to the art and its restoration. The mural was eventually professionally restored, as is proper protocol in such a situation, and the point of this example is that the community had enough pride in the piece to find it fit to “protect and care” for it, which extends beyond the duty of the artist initially delivering their art services to the project.

The following images of “Good Trouble,” a mural that was envisioned and funded by Councilman Mitch Nowakowski and Rebecca Castaneda of the Fillmore District and Howard Johnson, Erie County Legislator, reflect the success of how community becomes action oriented to protect and oversee public works. The mural of the late John Lewis was completed in 2021. After Buffalo sustained a heavy weather battering between December 2022 and January of 2023, a nearby tree had fallen, imposing upon the mural and walkway which the community frequents. Thanks to Tommy Gallagher, Buffalo resident and a mural enthusiast, the situation was brought to our attention via social media on Instagram.

Upon receiving messaging from Tommy, we contacted Rebecca and she was resourcefully swift in removing the tree, debris and such, restoring the area with a passable walkway and making the art visible again. This is an example of a community caring for and taking ownership of public art. Such an act does not signify any threat to the artist or strip them of copyright or ownership per se, nor should situations where community seeks out the art for memorable photo selfies and the likes. As professionals, artists must indeed protect their intellectual rights and copyrights to what they create, however, we believe there’s a thin line that can be overstepped, by either artist or community. Crediting artists after any use or application of the public art that they created should be standard. In situations where the community “uses” images of the art for personal/business gains, the relationship becomes sketchy, in the least. Just as well, when public art becomes a leveraging tool for an artist, putting themselves and personal gain before the interests or welfare of the community, a soft agreement is somewhat breached, fracturing the “public” in Public Art.

Eat Off Art will continue to do our best in making sure that lines of communication between institute, artist and community remain healthy, productive and forward-thinking for a wide sweeping sense of harmony and togetherness.

Peace And Love Always

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