Sunday, January 3, 2010

december/january undercurrent article

this article has been in print for about a month, but we're finally uploading it here. enjoy, and we'll be back this week with another podcast.

Ed: I look around Fresno and I see a lot of public art, especially downtown. On the Fulton Mall alone we have pieces by Clement Renzi, Auguste Renoir, Jan de Swart, Peter Voulkos, some seriously famous artists. Those artists are just the tip of the iceberg for the Mall. Off the Mall, Downtown Fresno is dotted with many more sculptural pieces, and much more. We also have a mural district ( that is spreading and opening up the eyes of Fresno to a greater possibility of public art. But it seems that the rest of Fresno is hesitant, if not openly opposed to public art. Even the Tower district, which has been known as an area for arts & entertainment, has struggled to really embrace public art, as seen in the recent controversy over the mural on Neighborhood Thrift Store. Adam, why do you think that public art seems to be accepted and cherished downtown, but is either left out of or discouraged in other parts of Fresno?

Adam: I think part of it has to do with idea that downtown has a district set aside. The art is "caged" in. Art has been stirring things up and causing trouble for ages. Thus, mural districts, museums, and galleries are okay. They are labeled, safe places to voluntarily go and look at art. But as soon as people have to accidentally interact with art or they have the slightest feeling of imposition, some of them get upset. Let me tell you, I've knocked over my fair share of caricaturists' easels at the beach in my day; those rascals always trying to draw my tiny ears and nose. Rent a space and pay taxes you vultures!

Ed: Holy crap, that's funny. But I do agree that maybe it's about those areas being set aside, and maybe even a destination of sort. The art downtown is in parks, or on buildings in a business district, not in your neighborhood. When it shows up in your neighborhood, then it's problematic. Seriously, in all the online debate over the mural in the Tower district, there were a lot of comments about having to see it everyday, and a lot of people didn't want to be subjected to something they had no say in. Then again, maybe these same people like schlock like Thomas Kincaid or paintings of flowers above their toilets. So, if we can stick murals and other art in a part of town we rarely see, it's okay. What I wonder is why corporate or business centers in Fresno don't have public art like other major cities? Is it just that Fresno doesn't like art, isn't willing to pay for art, or doesn't know art exists?

Adam: Well, I imagine part of it has to do with the same people who feel they are being assaulted by the gargoyles at Iron Bird Lofts or the 100+ foot mural at Neighborhood Thrift store. If I were a business owner trying to drum up customers in this tough economy, a squeaky wheel loudly proclaiming their negative opinions about the public art I incorporated into my venture would certainly make me think twice about it. It's unfortunate, but it seems to be what happens in some cases. To me, it rings of a cultural problem. Has the art-loving culture of Fresno reach critical mass? Has it grown big enough to wield lobbying power in the actual design and construction of the community? Has Fresno reached that point where incorporating art into the city's body and soul is no big deal?

Ed: I think the art loving community in Fresno hasn't quite made it yet. It's growing, but it's still has a way to go before it can wield it's power over Fresno. And, I totally understand it when it's controversial art, but why hasn't Fresno embraced "safe" public art? Do you remember the part in Fight Club where the blew up a sculpture so it would roll into a coffee shop, when Bob was shot? The piece that they blew up was just a huge sphere on a base. Corporate Fresno should be purchasing pieces to have in front of their business or in the strip mall. Instead of public art it seems that Fresno install fountains or flowerbeds. Those are fine, but give me some art. And I guess those of us that think like that are still in the minority.

Adam: I wonder if there isn't more art than we think. I'd be curious to tour a few business parks and see if they do indeed have any concrete sculpture or bland commercial art around. I think we'll get there soon though. We'll grow as a city and with that growth will come appreciation for different things, public art being one of them. With Fresno on the cusp of green development, I think we have a unique position with our essentially clean slate to do some really innovative crossover art and make beautiful additions to our fair town.

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