When it comes to a public art program that is highly regarded and heartily embraced by its constituent public, it’s tough to beat Carbondale. Its program is mature, extensive and seeps into the town’s circulatory system in surprising ways, including, but not limited to, the quest to establish artists-only housing.
Given that Basalt is in the process of developing its first public art master plan, we thought it would be a good idea to chat with Carbondale Town Manager Jay Harrington, Laurie Lindberg, assistant to the Carbondale public works director and town liaison to the Carbondale Public Arts Commission (CPAC), and Sarah Moore, CPAC board president, about their program, which might be used as something of a template for Basalt’s budding program.
RFWJ: What’s the basic history of Carbondale’s commitment to public art?
Harrington: A town of Carbondale resolution was established in 2012 to create the Carbondale Public Arts Commission (CPAC) and to promote art in the town. The town actively supports CPAC and the promotion of art and the Art Around Town show by supplying labor and equipment for art installations through public works staff.
RFWJ: How long have you been in your position?
Lindberg: 5½ years
RFWJ: What is your actual job description?
Lindberg: Public works is my “main and full-time job.” CPAC’s Art Around Town show becomes a huge priority for the public works installation crew in early May as the deinstallations occur for the existing show and we prepare for the installations the last two weeks of May for the new Art Around Town Show that opens on June 6.
RFWJ: Is public art the only thing you work on?
Lindberg: No, it’s not. Public works priorities, social media/website design, bear-proof-can art and Main Street banner design are also other items I’m involved with as needed.
RFWJ: What exactly is CPAC?
Moore: Carbondale Public Arts Commission is a town commission that carries forth the mission to bring public visual arts to Carbondale for the cultural enhancement of the community and the enjoyment of residents and visitors. We are a volunteer group of Carbondale residents that includes architects, artists, Realtors, educators just to name a few. We fluctuate between eight to 12 members usually.
RFWJ: How long have you been on the CPAC board/how long as president?
Moore: I’ve been on the board now for approximately seven years, but have only been the chair since early 2018.
RFWJ: What is CPAC’s annual budget and where does that money come from?
Harrington: CPAC received $18,500 from the TOC budget in 2018 for honorariums to the artists for sculptures selected for the annual Art Around Town show ($21,500 in 2019 budget). This budget amount includes all marketing, artists reception for the opening in June and CPAC supplies/installation materials. CPAC also receives a 25-percent commission for sculptures sold in the current Art Around Town show. CPAC doesn’t typically purchase sculpture, but promotes opportunities in the community for the community/private donor to donate the sculpture back to CPAC as part of the permanent collection.
RFWJ: How many pieces of public art does Carbondale have?
Lindberg: The Town has approximately 25 permanent sculptures in the collection. Each year, there are 15 new sculptures added for the rotating annual Art Around Town show.
RFWJ: Why does Carbondale place such a high emphasis on public art?
Lindberg: The Town of Carbondale has made public art a priority for many years. The program is a success because it has the support of the town trustees, town manager and staff. The town’s public works crew is instrumental in installing the art every year, and that crew includes the town fleet mechanic and equipment operators. CPAC volunteer members also dedicate a huge amount of time and energy into making the annual Art Around Town a success and ensuring the Artists Reception on June 6 for the opening is incredibly fun.
RFWJ: Are there measurable economic benefits and if so what is the data?
Lindberg: When the opening of the Art Around Town show happens the first weekend in June, the town hotels and restaurants are full from all of the artists/families and tourists that are in visiting in town.
RFWJ: What are the less-measurable benefits to having a big-time public arts program — quality of life, sense of community ... whatever?
Lindberg: Carbondale residents seem to embrace the art that is located throughout the town — it brings the community together. Carbondale schools frequently integrate the sculptures into their curriculum and have walking tours. Photos of the sculptures are frequent in social media and indirectly promote tourism in Carbondale. And the sculptures change the experience in town as the seasons change.
RFWJ: How do you establish relationships with the artists?
Lindberg: The Public Art Commission puts out a call to interested artists every January for the upcoming Art Around Town Sculpture Show. Every year is different as to who applies, but the selected artists of the current and past shows are always included on the town website, Facebook pages and email contact. There are several repeat artists in the Art Around Town shows, so CPAC and the public works installation crew maintains relationships with the artists.
Moore: We love to attend the installs and we work to forge a relationship with the artists. Our Art Walk on opening night gives us a chance to talk with them and learn more about them. I introduce them and give them an opportunity to talk about themselves and the work and it opens the door for us and anyone else to learn more about them. The Artist Reception has been a great opportunity for us to get to know them better as well in a more relaxed environment.
RFWJ: How do you choose the pieces?
Lindberg: After the call to artists is completed — this year the deadline [was] Jan. 31 — CPAC members vote two times online individually and the third and final vote is done with CPAC meeting as a group.
Moore: We do this all in a blind jury format. The final jury in-person is very important as it gives us a chance to discuss any installation issues, location options and/or issues, size and safety, etc.
RFWJ: Are they rented or purchased? What percentage of your pieces rotate out at some point?
Lindberg: CPAC typically doesn’t purchase sculptures, so most of the permanent collection was purchased by private individuals and then donated back to CPAC/town. The 15 sculptures in the annual Art Around Town show rotate out after a year.
Moore: The rotating art pieces are “on loan” from the individual artists for the duration of the show. Each piece is for sale while it is here as well.
RFWJ: How do you choose the locations for the pieces?
Lindberg: Three years ago, the Colorado Stone Marble Quarry in Marble donated 50 tons of marble to the Town of Carbondale and CPAC so that the chunks of marble could be used as bases for the sculptures. The locations were determined by the size and shape of each piece of marble in relation to the location of the public right-of-way — which is where all of CPAC’s sculptures have to be located.
Moore: The bases have been a great addition to the show and help tie it together. We do take a lot of time in our final jury trying to determine whether the show will work for locations in terms of safety, space, etc. For example, we accepted a 25-foot-long long piece once but realized it was unrealistic both for transport by the artist and location for it. We have to make a conscious decision to place sculptures that are appropriate for the space. Kids will want to climb more on some, we look at traffic needs, we consider safety issues, all part of the location choice.
RFWJ: What is your most famous piece?
Moore: Every year, each of us has a favorite but we usually never tell! One of my favorite parts of being on CPAC is the dialogue I hear from friends, kids, students, strangers, etc. about the pieces. Everyone seems to have their favorites and we try to build a show around that. We want something for everyone. We award a Best of Show award each year that the public votes on through Survey Monkey. The artist wins $1,000 for that distinction. In the years I have been on CPAC, there have certainly been some that stand out and that are talked about for a long time.
RFWJ: Have there ever been controversies associated either with the program in general, the process of selecting pieces or with individual pieces?
Lindberg: Art is art, and there are always differing opinions of who likes what. There are not many controversies because the community seems to embrace the variety of the work and tends to thrive on differences of opinion.
Moore: Nothing jumps to mind as a strong controversy. I’ve heard a complaint or so in my years on CPAC but none that were an issue, usually just a strong opinion. There have been a few instances where building owners/tenants did not like a piece or location or in one case wanted a location added. But it usually has worked out so nobody is too unhappy.
RFWJ: If you had a piece of advice for Basalt as it gears up its public art program, what would it be?
Moore: We have been lucky to have huge support from our trustees and town manager. We also have some determined people on the commission who have moved us forward. But maybe the one big thing: We work very hard on building a show that appeals to many. A piece that makes you think, a piece that makes you feel, a piece for the kids, a piece that represents our community, something to make you smile … color, bronze, marble, interactive … I’d like to think we succeed because every year people think, “I can’t wait to see what they have come up with this year.”