The Public Art Project is a program of the Urbanism Directorate of the Department of Transportation and Public Works. It is the first instance of an urban regulatory unit in the central government focused on the qualitative aspects of public space. The prevailing vision in the 20th century had a tendency to represent space in quantitative terms: engineering disciplines and planning understood that all interventions in space, the city and the territory, had to be based on scientific premises; at least on paper. Urbanism (particularly the European model) rejects the false opposition between the practical and the aesthetic.
The public competition announcement initially proposed a list of aesthetic spaces, from community workshops to urban train stations. Then, when the Directorate’s Project for the Revitalization of Urban Centers was formally established, new areas were added, incorporating the design projects at urban centers. In the final analysis, approximately 100 pieces will be created and located throughout the island. An Evaluation Committee appointed by the Governor analyzed the more than 300 proposals received, and, following the recommendation procedures specified in the competition guidelines, continues to consider the areas not awarded. The Evaluation Committee has brought together persons related to art in different ways, trying to maintain a generational balance. Since its creation, the Public Art Project has intended to combine experience with experimentation, and to highlight the work as the most important component, betting on the future and on a constantly evolving culture. We are pleased with the results: a wide array of works in different media and concepts. The Web page (www.artepublico.puertorico.pr) shows the scope of the project. With their works, the artists have expressed that public art is not limited to monumental sculpture; the public will be surprised with the range of media, situations, scales, materials, and siting strategies.
There is neither a “who” nor a “how.” The location of a public art piece is based on the will of the artist as well as public codes (permits are required from the agencies with jurisdiction over the sites). It is a healthfully complicated process. Artists need to identify opportunities in restrictions and to successfully incorporate them to their work. The image of the sullen genius making decisions in the pseudo-platonic isolation of his workshop/cave does not fit a project such as this one. There is no place either for the technocrat’s vision, addressing the world from the rigidity of the norm and habit when he/she is not able to justify his/her decisions. Occasionally, accidental circumstances have an effect on the location of a work and, without sounding metaphysical, I would venture to say that chance usually improves the product, as is in every creative endeavor.
The criteria used to select works were published in the competition announcement. Each work must converse with the physical and conceptual space of the aesthetic area for which it is proposed, and should be consistent with the materials to be used and the technical aspects pertaining to the construction of the piece. In addition to general criteria, each work establishes its own critical framework. The Evaluation Committee has had to interact with the critical framework suggested by the work.
We are convinced that ultimately the artist is the one who decides how much attention he is willing to pay to public opinion, and the modes of response. We do not believe that a project such as this one should condition artistic subjectivity to a single strategy of dialogue and participation, specially when it originates in a government initiative. There are opportunities in the announcement for direct community participation, as in the community workshops. But that is not the only venue of participation. We also understand that the concept “public opinion” should be questioned. Too often in cultural initiatives it has been used to promote governmental paternalism, or to pose obstacles to the subjectivity of the artist, which we want to promote as part of a relevant comment about the conceptions of social coexistence and the public.
It is a shared responsibility, that does not begin when the work is installed. Each case requires an individual analysis instead of categorical positions about this issue. On the other hand, it should be stressed that each contract requires that the artist has licensed professionals to solve the technical problems of his/her work, and these aspects can range from the selection of construction materials to the dimensions and distribution of components and the stability of the structure.