Oldham advises agencies to ensure the artist understands construction. Oftentimes artists are independent and their work is very important to them, how it gets portrayed is important, how it gets built is typically not their most important thought. “It’s the end result that is very important and it takes educating an artist to be able to have a successful collaboration.”
Creating a Smooth Process
From the artist’s perspective, Oldham shares that things have been similar with the many different agencies he’s worked with, especially regarding the paperwork and the meticulous attention one has to pay to it.
“The thing that made it easiest to work with was giving us access to all departments,” he says of working with DART for The Traveling Man. “There is usually one lead, one project manager that is your go-to guy that you have to submit all your paperwork to, but with DART in particular, they gave us access to their contacts at the city and then the contacts within DART.” He emphasizes that weekly and biweekly meetings to connect with all of these people helped ensure everyone understood what was going on; everyone was on the same page. “There is so much work to be done that you can’t go through one person; that’s just not possible.”
“Public programs have to be vigilant to make sure that the purpose of why we do what we do is understood by the general public because we really depend on the public support to continue in operation,” Allen says. Because of their procurement process to comply with FTA regulations, he explains they have to be diligent about the way they go about purchasing anything, whether that’s the consultants, artists or materials. He adds, “But that’s not really that much more cumbersome than any other government agency or municipal agency.”
With panels and juries selecting art, running into problems where art was considered offensive or overly provocative has not been an issue. “There’s a fine line, but the way that most programs are similar to panels, it includes people that really kind of get it in terms of working in the public realm and it is a different forum than working in a private gallery — a private space vs. a public space.”
Mintz voices a similar sentiment. “Because SEPTA places great emphasis on community participation and voice, the community representative and local arts professionals who sit on the jury selection panel play a very important role in the selection process. They are encouraged to express how they think the broader community will feel about a particular design concept.”
Growing a Program
“The fact of the matter is, it seldom starts within the agency itself,” Allen says of art in transit programs. When he ran an art program in Southern California, he had an artist under contract from Minneapolis and the artist told of meetings he had been attending. “These community meetings, people were insisting that there had to be art designed into the system and that’s where it came from,” Mintz says. “The community insisted. For anybody that was interested, form a grassroots group.”
Of his experience of working on The Traveling Man, Oldham says, “It not only builds DART’s or the transit line’s marketing and power, it really helps bring a community together.
“First thing we did was to go to five or six different little shops right around our area and start introducing ourselves, start knowing those people and they started coming out and we were always very accommodating, taking photographs and giving people information. You saw the same people coming out every Thursday night, taking pictures.” He stresses, “It really makes you feel like you were part of the neighborhood.”