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Becky Borlan is a local public artist. One of her latest works, “Tailspin,” is a piece of suspended sculpture created for Marie Reed Elementary school. You can find her at beckyborlan.com and on Instagram @cakesqueezeparty.
Becky, how would you describe your job? What do you do?
I am an artist. My primary focus is on creating public sculpture both indoors and outdoors. But I also work in a lot of different mediums as well.
Why public art?
I realized as I was doing undergrad that I wasn’t really comfortable in the typical art world mold, which is usually working with a gallery and being represented. I saw public art as a way to work around that, break free of that. Public art also combines a bunch of other disciplines that I’m interested in like architecture, urbanism, and community development.
How would you define public art, then?
For me public art is about accessibility. It’s creating an artwork where a lot of people can see it. It’s not rarified. I feel like galleries can be kind of intimidating spaces sometimes, so I like the idea of public art existing in the world where people can encounter it unexpectedly and have an experience that is just outside of their norm.
Why do you think D.C. in particular needs public art?
Yeah (laughing), we are a town of just like so much steeped history—and I mean, it’s great—I do love it. But I think that’s all static. You know, these monuments. I think you need to keep evolving and keep seeing new things in the cityscape, both indoors and outdoors.
Let’s talk about your kite piece, “Tailspin.” It was inspired by the annual Kite Festival. How did that particular piece come about?
I kind of go where the opportunities are. I’m actually excited to share this resource with other artists. So, basically, DC Department of General Services puts out calls for artwork for different municipal buildings. In particular they look for D.C. artists. They do murals, they do mosaics, they do sculptures. It runs the gamut. What’s happening right now is that all the schools in D.C. are being renovated and they’re putting art in each school that they renovate. So there’s a lot of opportunities right now. It’s a really, really exciting time.
You used to live in D.C. and now you live in Baltimore. Why did you move to Baltimore?
We were paying the majority of our money to rent. It just seemed like, if I was going to try and do art full time, that we needed to pay less rent. I really liked our neighborhood and I really liked where we lived. My husband still works in D.C. and my husband could walk to work. But, at the same time, how much we were paying was untenable. We were already sacrificing a lot just to live where we lived and we were just like, “We can’t really keep this up. It’s not sustainable.”
Can you tell me about the new piece that you are working on?
I presented the proposal. It’s another commission for an elementary school. It’s a DGS project for Murch Elementary. The working title right now is “Color Cascade,” but I usually change the title.
There is a lot of front-end work that goes into creating a proposal and then not knowing necessarily if it is going to be realized. That’s, unfortunately, the way it is with public art in a lot of ways. It’s always valuable for me to go through that process. The funny thing is that I had a totally different, well, alright, it wasn’t totally different, but I had a different model that I made, a different piece. I just didn’t think it was strong enough. Three days before my presentation I made this other piece. You can have one idea, but then if that turns out to be a dead end, then you find another path. Just, basically, by necessity.
Note: Two days after this interview Borlan was awarded the commision for “Color Cascade” at Murch Elementary.