In his article “Squatting Duck” (3/7), Glenn Dixon asks the reader to imagine a number of derisive things about the recently unveiled sculpture-in-progress component of the Unity Park project in Adams Morgan. “Imagine” is certainly the operative word, as Dixon chose not to interview anyone, or gather any background information on the work, the project in general, or any of the people involved before putting pen to paper.
Imagine a reporter approaching his subject with a pre-declared cynicism and yet not explaining where that cynicism comes from. Imagine that individual flying off the handle with an uninformed tirade filled with demeaning attacks and factual misrepresentations. Then imagine the newspaper for which that individual writes, perhaps embarrassed by this unprofessional drivel, burying the article deep within the recesses of its pages. One can only imagine the opportunity that was missed: the chance, the need to discuss both the pros and cons of this artwork in its totality as part of a serious, concerted effort involving a host of individuals working to bring something positive into a community just recently wounded by violence.
I imagine that everyone is entitled to his opinion. But I also believe that when that opinion is offered in a public forum, it should be based on as much information as possible so as to foster a mature, healthy, and constructive debate. Without that, this article, the arts in general, the writer, and the publication become trivialized in a way that does a disservice to all concerned.
With respect to providing some context, Carry the Rainbow on Your Shoulders is actually a site-specific, permanent installation comprised of more than just the figurative forms misrepresented in Dixon’s article. As the sculptor/designer selected competitively for this project, I was responsible for designing the fountain, the planting area, lighting for the artwork and plaza, the granite seat wall (including the lettering) and the cobblestone arrangement that surrounds it. (These cobblestones were recycled from the previous layout of the park to provide a sense of continuity.) I believe this would indicate that I am much more than simply a “concrete craftsman,” as Dixon so erroneously asserts. But this is what happens when one imagines what he is writing, rather than conferring directly with the source.
In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to do a number of public art projects over the years; by and large, most of these projects are similar to the undertaking being completed in Unity Parkthey are located in urban settings, include a mix of materials and artistic components, are guided by committees comprised of local citizens, and deal intrinsically with issues regarding the involvement of art in people’s everyday lives.
What makes public art relevant is the extent to which it dispels the notion that the visual arts are something necessarily separate and apart from people’s daily routines. Galleries are havens, and collectors can be like angels, providing opportunities for the more exploratory and intensely personalized aspects of the arts. But in the public domain, broad accountability is an important factor. And while the artist should still be held to a standard of high quality, he must also be mindful of the mixed character of his intended audience with respect to the selection of materials, symbols, and style. In Adams Morgan, the most culturally diverse section of the city, this issue took on major and inescapable importance. Such was the mind-set driving my decisions in working with those involved in the Unity Park project.
Dixon has made it all too easy to dismiss his writing as knee-jerk, irresponsible, and having no journalistic value. But in light of Washington City Paper’s track record of rather insightful, challenging, thought-provoking, and substantiated offerings, it is hard to imagine what was going on editorially to allow this nonsense to be printed in the first place.