ArtPlace spoke with Amanda Lovelee and Sarah West, Saint Paul City Artists in Residence from Public Art Saint Paul, about the expansion of the program that places them ‘upstream’ in City systems as part of a creative team and with other city-making professionals.
ARTPLACE: What skills and dreams do you bring to City Artist in Residence program in Saint Paul’s Department of Public Works?
LOVELEE: I come to the CAIR program with an MFA in visual studies. I believe that finding, preserving, and constructing a space for physical connection is an urgent issue. In my practice I use media to collect stories depicting my findings. The products of my research varies by project: a few examples are arranging a 300-person square dance, building a 25-foot bicycle-driven table, shooting short documentary films, and letterpress printing small, take-away books. Within the CAIR program my job title is temporal and engagement city artist where I focus on both large- and small-scale tools that could alter the way the city engages with the public and the way the public engages with the city. I dream about a time in the near future where this relationship is more collaborative, less about complaints and more about compliments.
WEST: I’m interested in, and challenged by, the question of what an artist can contribute to the city-making process and I’m not sure that an artist’s training and experience translates easily into the fairly serious business of city work. However, being a part of such a large, multidisciplinary environment provides ample space and material for creative problem solving. My education is in philosophy and architecture and in my work I’m particularly interested in the visual or spatial communication of complex ideas. A city is certainly a complex conglomeration of ideas, systems, and experiences, and I hope to create and support projects within the CAIR program that will not only add aesthetic beauty but also expand viewers’ perspectives of specific site conditions and the underlying systems within the city of Saint Paul.
ARTPLACE: What city systems are you investigating?
LOVELEE: I have really enjoyed the ability to explore many city systems and investigate how the city turns on, operates, and dreams about its future. Particular areas of interest have been how to visually show the planning process in progress on the actual streets and not just on paper, how to involve the public more creatively in community meetings, other ways to activate public spaces such as parks and libraries, office engagement, and everyday good cheer.
WEST: I’m interested in the possibilities of using art interventions as antidotes to the awkward spaces of the urban core that are in between phases of planning and construction. Major city improvement projects have long timelines with various periods of messy site conditions and no visible activity. These spaces might be excellent opportunities for short term art installation projects to both activate large, vacant areas and to provide artists unique conditions of visibility and scale.
ARTPLACE: How has the city of St. Paul changed you and how have you changed the city?
LOVELEE: Working within the city of St Paul I now get to wear a high visibility vest, work in a block of cubicles, navigate Excel documents with ease, understand more acronyms than I knew existed, think in terms of long timelines and large-scale projects, realize that there is a person who adjusts the traffic lights and thinks about the right of way, and see just how many systems and people it takes to make everything work so that the public does not even realize it is happening.
WEST: Our city coworkers have been extremely welcoming, inclusive, and supportive of our ideas and contributions. In each department we’ve found colleagues who are patient with our curiosity as we expand our understanding of every sort of city system, from street reconstruction and snow plowing to economic development and public meetings. But just as our team strives to understand the work of city engineers and urban planners, we also have an opportunity to alter and expand the city’s and the general residents’ understanding of public art. As part of several on-going projects, we participate in community open houses to talk with the public about potential artist projects in their neighborhood. Often we encounter requests for a “catalogue” of art from which the community might choose or find that the expectations of what public art might be are very limited.
Public Art Saint Paul (PASP) engages artists in shaping a public realm that fosters imagination, explores and illuminates civic values and the community’s evolving history, and strengthens public places as vessels of civic life. Over 25 years, PASP has partnered with the City of Saint Paul to promote its identity as a creative city at the head of navigation on a great world river.