Opinion > Star Staff
Stepping on rattlers, or wanting a better taco
By Ken Byler, Up the Creek
A friend at the regional daily newspaper telephoned me awhile back. Knowing that I lean slightly towards contrary, he was inquiring about my thoughts on Allen's latest installation of public art. I'm afraid I disappointed him. I like the idea of public art.
It began with a fascination for creations assembled alongside Route 66. There was a row of Cadillacs stuck nosed down in dirt, giant stuffed jackalopes, concrete whales, dinosaurs, gardens of petrified wood and all manor of oddities that beckoned travelers off the road to judge the quality of the public art displayed.
Lately there have been rumblings of discontent about public art. Some say it's a waste of money. Others complain about the fraudulent nature of modern art. As writer Susan Sontag once said, "Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible."
Apparently a lot of the citizenry isn't aware that a local ordinance mandates the spending of a percentage of city tax revenue on "public art." Because of that ordinance the citizens of Allen are blessed with a bronze bull and brass ducks at Watters Creek, Oceano in the library courtyard, Ladders and Rails, the limestone and stainless steel Prairie Song at City Hall, the logo monoliths on Stacy Road and the new stuff on Exchange Parkway. What the citizens of Allen are not blessed with is an indoor venue dedicated to the visual arts.
Under the leadership of Library Director Jeff Timbs, Cultural Affairs Director Tom Keener, Bach to Books and Friends of the Library have done a great job of showcasing writers and performing artists in the civic auditorium. And the creations of individual artists and students are regularly displayed in the glass cases in the library hall.
But there's no public venue in Allen where the displaying of visual art is the main event rather than a sideshow designed to enhance raising money for other muses or businesses. The artist usually has to rent tent space ranging in costs up to $400.
Artists are always the last to be paid. First the art supplier is paid for material, paint, paper and canvas. The framer gets his money on the front end and the gallery owner takes 40 percent. Waiting at the end of the line for what's left is an artist that was willing to expose their soul in the public square and poured their heart out over paper, canvas, wood or stone.
Writer Willa Cather said it best when she wrote, "Religion and art are close kin ... but art and economics are strangers." It's ironic that most artists won't become millionaires until they're too dead to enjoy the money. Poor artists, poets and musicians can turn a run-down, low-rent neighborhood into a cool place to live and work. Inevitably, the well-heeled and toney crowd moves in, sucks up all the energy, raises the rent and the creative people that made it cool in the first place can no longer afford to live there.
It's my opinion that artistic folks become more creative if they hang around with like-minded people. If you've created something that pleases your ear or eye, you ought to hang it out there for your friends to enjoy. They're pulling for you and you'll be able to say, "I was in show with renown artists like Marie Renfro, Murray Stein, Pamela Van Laanen, Synne Magar Ferguson, Amy Noel Chizk, Jeannie Clark Fisher" and a slew of other folks whose friendship and creations added a measure of joy to your life.
I believe the Allen Public Art Commission has done a good job of getting the community involved in the process. And yes! I do believe a giant stuffed jackalope is a work of art just as much as something that looks like a 600-pound bronze taco named "Oceano" in the library courtyard.
Finally, I want to mention that out in the Mojave Desert, along old Highway 66, there once was a sign that read, "See Pit Full of Baby Rattlers." Yep! You guessed it. It was a pit filled with toys that rattled when a baby shook them. It might still be available.
Ken Byler is a Star Newspapers columnist, author and artist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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