City Artist in Residence

Public Art Saint Paul

Funding Received: 2012
St. Paul, MN
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
January 16, 2014

Installation of flora stop sign post; photo by Andy King

Saint Paul’s three-decade Residential Street Vitality Program (RSVP) systematically improves all elements of streetscapes: streets and sidewalks, curbs and gutters, trees and storm water management features, lighting and signage. Launched in 1996, it will eventually reach every street in Saint Paul. City Artist in Residence (CAIR) Marcus Young of Public Art Saint Paul, housed in the City’s Public Works Department alongside City street engineers, realized the transformative potential of RSVP public art. Since 2008, he has integrated Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk into routine sidewalk replacement, transforming sidewalk panels into pages of a City poetry book. This on-going system-based project is now found in neighborhoods citywide, with over 700 stampings in 6 years.

Saint Paul’s Public Art Ordinance names the CAIR as a resource in public art, functioning as advisor, curator and creator. As RSVP curator, Marcus assembled an artist team to work on Citywide RSVP public art over a multi-year period. Marcus selected artists Lisa Elias and Brad Kaspari through an invitational process. In his curatorial capacity, Marcus viewed the street system as an opportunity to impact the entire City, focusing attention on the steel stop sign post that supports the sign. Marcus noted that the standard post was not particularly beautiful.

As he raised the possibility of redesigning the stop sign post with City-making colleagues in Public Works, they pointed out that to change the post was a matter of life and death, given the function of the sign in traffic management and safety. After careful consideration, Marcus concluded that, if a stop sign post is a matter of life and death, it is even more important that the stop sign post be beautiful; that it should speak to something beyond simply maintaining our life; that the stop sign post presented an opportunity to create something that keeps our bodies safe while nourishing our souls.

Building on intense research into stop sign post safety requirements, an upstream immersion into the process of RSVP and the systems it impacts, and the challenge to consider “the aesthetic value of everyday objects,” artist Lisa Elias designed a series of Flora stop sign posts. The new posts maintain all of the safety requirements of traditional stop sign posts, and they add beauty to an object we pass every day without stopping to think about it. The City Traffic Engineer approved the installation.

In response to the Marcus’s citywide view of RSVP public art, Brad Kaspari designed and fabricated floral rain garden elements that draw people in and slow people down to consider the vital role rain gardens play in maintaining the beauty and environmental health of their neighborhoods.

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Artist Lisa Elias and CAIR Marcus Young with flora stop sign post; photo by Andy King

Recent Wins
1. Saint Paul's Public Art Ordinance Guidelines and Technical Manual were completed and approved. The CAIR program is named in Saint Paul’s Public Art Ordinance as an advisory resource for the City. The Ordinance creates opportunities for artists to significantly impact the City, and it will open $5 million in opportunities for artists in the next decade.

2. To enable CAIRs to produce projects that best reflect their artistic intentions, we have engaged City professionals and artistic leaders in the Critical Response Process led by Steve Busa of Red Eye Theater.

3. New City Art demonstration projects were approved for 2014. More details will follow in future blog posts.

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.

As the first stop sign post was installed in the prototype phase, the reaction of residents was immediate. Drivers slowed down (and stopped) to gaze at the new stop sign post. They saw the stop sign, the object they see countless times every day, with new eyes.

The stop sign posts and rain garden elements will spread into new neighborhoods throughout the City next year and as RSVP continues to improve streetscapes for years to come, transforming every neighborhood, every street. Intersections become gardens; sidewalk panels become books. In twenty years, we will walk and drive down streets that would be unrecognizable today. More importantly, we will live in a City transformed by artistic elements created and maintained as vital parts of City systems. Marcus presented the project at the American Public Works Association Congress in August 2013.

As Lisa Elias says, “We care about how our houses and neighborhoods look, and we maintain their physical and aesthetic integrity.” The City is responsible for maintaining the physical health of its systems through routine maintenance programs like RSVP and sidewalk replacement, but it does not always maintain the spiritual and aesthetic health of those systems or the people that use them. Through the transformative vision of the CAIRs and the transformative power of City Art, the City begins to address its spiritual health, the aesthetic health of all of its citizens.