Back to School: Public Art on College Campuses

By September 5, 2017 No Comments

Written By: Elysian Koglmeier on behalf of the Public Art Archive

Colleges are gardens that nurture the growth of our future generations. Young minds attend college to learn and prepare themselves for the world ahead of them.

The arts are a part of that influential growth. Like rainfall to plants, the arts nourish the minds and hearts of students and the entire campus community.

Public art is a wonderful way to introduce students that may never step foot inside an art studio or art history classroom to the cultural enrichment the arts provide.  

You may disagree with me, but I believe it’s not important whether a student likes the public art work. Yes, it’s great when students take pride in their school’s collection. But, I believe the significance of the work comes from the fact that students have to express why they like the work or not. Firstly, noticing the artwork encourages participation in public space. Secondly, students have to think, engage, and participate in an active dialogue. Public art collections on campuses expose students to diverse perspectives and visual expressions, and gives students the space and opportunity to develop judgments of such creative expression.  

And it’s not just for the students…the faculty, staff, visitors, and community members also have access to the collection.

Public art also plays a key part in the identity of the school. It activates and enlivens locations on campus and ultimately contributes to placemaking. Most works in college collections are permanent and sculptural, but higher ed institutions are disrupting these expectations. Consider Brown University’s sound piece, Advice from a Former Student (2010) by Nina Katchadourian or, Guilford College’s enormous stick installation by Patrick Dougherty. I have to note that I first fell in love with the participatory element of public art when my sculpture class worked alongside Patrick Dougherty to install Middlebury College’s, So Inclined, in 2007.

How are college public art collections organized and funded?

Most universities have a Percent-for-Art program and a Public Art Committee comprised of some combination of faculty, students, trustees and staff. If universities have a museum, the objects may be accessioned in the museum collection.

Here are some exemplary collections that can be found in the Public Art Archive:

Human Puzzle by BJ Krivanek. University of Florida Lake Nona Research & Academic Center. Photo Courtesy BJ Krivanek.

University of Florida’s Art in State Buildings program is a component of Florida’s Art in State Buildings initiative. It is directed by UF’s public art administrator and is overseen by the state’s cultural agency – the Division of Cultural Affairs. UF’s Art in State Buildings program has over 155 works of art in its collection that extends throughout the state. The program takes great efforts to care for and preserve its collection; condition reports for each piece of art are completed every three years.

Public art preservation will be discussed at this year’s WESTAF Symposium: The Future History of Public Art. It’s still not too late to register as an observer!

Procession of Ants by David Bowen. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Photo courtesy Richard McCoy and Associates.

The Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis collection is scattered throughout a 509-acre campus. The works can easily be enjoyed by community members since the campus is next to hot-spot destinations like the Indiana Avenue Cultural District, the Indianapolis Zoo, Downtown Canal Walk and White River State Park. This collection presents a wonderful example of how public art can help unify the “Town and Gown” relationship between the University and its local community.

The Herron School of Art + Design at IUPUI recently brought “Horizons,” an outdoor installation of work by internationally known Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, to its campus. Twelve life-size figures cast in iron and glass “walked” the path along the University Library. The eighteen month installation ends this month.

The Victor by Benjamin Victor. Peru State College. Photo Courtesy Staff of the Nebraska State Public Art Collection.

Nebraska State Public Art Collection receives funding from the State of Nebraska’s 1% for Art, which has generated over $3 million in artwork for Nebraska’s state buildings, state colleges and the University of Nebraska system.

Sculptures on Nebraska college campuses reflect the different interests of its student body. For instance, Peru State College has a nostalgic bronze sculpture of a 1960’s football player – The Victor, by Benjamin Victor, whereas Chadron State College pays homage to mythology with a large stone sculpture – The Muses, by David Clark.

Primordial Garden by Adela Andea. Texas Tech University, Human Sciences Building, Lubbock, Texas. Photo courtesy Adela Andea.

The Public Art Program at Texas Tech University System started in 1998 to enrich the campus environments and extend the educational mission at all of the universities. More than 100 works have been added to the campuses through the program’s one-percent-for-art funding. The works range from bronze sculptures in front of dorms to metal forms on building exteriors to LED lit installations hanging from ceilings to a live agave plant rooted in a garden.

Are you an administrator for a public art collection on a campus? We welcome you to submit your collection to the Public Art Archive to help increase the exposure of your meaningful program!