A group of Florida Gulf Coast University students are preparing to make history. Beginning today, members of Assistant Professor Michael Salmond's Digital Media Design 1 (ART 2600) class are creating videos that may shine a spotlight on some of the University's most prestigious public artworks. Although digital media pervades the commercial world, it is a tool that public artists and art administrators have yet to embrace when it comes to explaining the purpose and theme of public artworks to the people who encounter them on a daily basis.
It's a highly curious situation. On the one hand, thousands of cities, counties and universities around the country maintain vibrant public art collections. Urban planners believe that a vital and robust public art program boosts civic pride, enhances and defines a city’s identity, reflects the unique character and history of the city, burnishes the city’s image to the outside world and encourages tourism and economic development. At a collegiate level, campus-sited artworks often reflect the school's identity and history, foster an atmosphere of learning and culture, and attract top-notch students and faculty members. And yet, for all these benefits, the government entities and schools that install and maintain these artworks do little to educate their residents, visitors, students and faculty about the art they see cropping up all around them.
A recent survey of nearly 43,000 people in 26 communities conducted by Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation over a three year period beginning in 2008 makes this oversight even harder to understand or explain. The survey discovered that more than schools, low crime rates and economic opportunity, public art is the factor that most inspires people to locate and remain in a community.
"A city’s art, parks, and green spaces are more important than education, safety, and the local economy when it comes to inducing residents to develop a binding attachment to the town or city in which they live," the report notes. "A resident’s perceptions of the [community's aesthetics] are more strongly linked to their level of community attachment than to that person’s age, ethnicity or work status.”
But many governing bodies fail to capitalize on the public art collections they have painstakingly put in place. The students in Salmond's Digital Media Design class are about to change that equation at FGCU.
Although still in its infancy, Florida Gulf Coast University has already assembled a public art collection approaching 100 works. Many came compliments of Florida's Art in Public Buildings program, an initiative started in 1979 pursuant to section 255.043 of the Florida Statutes that earmarks one-half of one percent of the amount the legislature appropriates for the construction of state buildings for the acquisition of public artworks. Others were donated to FGCU by students, alumni and university supporters.
To get the word out to students, faculty and the people who reside in and visit Southwest Florida, FGCU is placing information and photographs about each artwork on two online public art registries, the Denver-based Public Art Archive and Manhattan-based cultureNOW. And qualifying videos will be used to supplement that information and help familiarize people with the themes these artworks convey.
For example, the five corten and stainless steel spires rising majestically from a bed of black river rock on the mall leading to Lutgert Hall known as Transition 2012 end in an LED beacons that send shafts of light throughout the mall at night just as FGCU graduates will carry the illumination they receive at the university into the world beyond. According to their creator, artist Robert Roesch, Transition’s spires “represent the promise of great things ahead,” and metaphorically, the change in metal from the 3-foot bases of corten steel to tops of reflective stainless steel symbolizes the change that will take place within each student as a result of the educational process.
The videos now in production will help tell these and similar stories so that students, faculty and campus visitors will have a more enriching experience each time they encounter artworks from the university's collection.
"It's exciting for my students to have the opportunity to be involved in an important project like this," Salmond notes.
Qualifying videos will be submitted to the artists who created the artwork featured in each production. With their approval, the videos will then be placed on the Public Art Archive and cultureNOW - and possibly the artist's website as well. And while cultureNOW's online registry encompasses more than 11,000 sites and contains more than 21,000 images and 1,050 podcasts by artists, architects, historians and curators, it has yet to receive an interpretative music video featuring a public artwork. So the videos now in production have the potential of adding a groundbreaking new component to the emerging process of making people aware about the existence, message and purpose of public art.
A native of England, Salmond arrived at FGCU in the Fall of 2011 as the first faculty member specializing in digital art and interactive media. Whether their goals are artistic or commercial, bound for a gallery installation or a game station, digital art students adapt constantly evolving tech-savvy tools and techniques to the realms of industry, commerce, art and marketing. Which makes this a perfect introductory project for students who possess a broad interest in the use of digital and video platforms for marketing, branding and artistic expression.
“It’s about designing experiences for people," Salmond told The Pinnacle's Drew Sterwald shortly after arriving at FGCU. "It’s the same designing Disneyland the physical place or Disneyland.com. It’s all about what experience people take away, whether it’s a product-based thing or purely artistic expression.”