Coming soon to a BREC park near you … Art! – The Arts – Baton Rouge Gallery

Coming soon to a BREC park near you … Art! – The Arts – Baton Rouge Gallery – Brief Article

Mindy Piontek

Beginning in September, the Baton Rouge Gallery at City Park is opening its biggest project yet. The gallery will install sculptures by Louisiana sculptors in 10 BREC parks for the public to enjoy. The sculptures will be on display through June 2002.

Kitty Pheney, executive director of the Baton Rouge Gallery, said the project is the culmination of a plan for public sculpture that originated in 1994. Originally, a master capital expansion plan sought to set aside funds for a sculpture garden on the back lawn of the Baton Rouge Gallery facility at City Park. By 1998, when BREC provided matching funds and the gallery reassessed the plan, the need for a sculpture garden was less pressing.

“LSU and Southeastern had just installed sculpture gardens, so we put our plans on hold,” said Pheney.

Then, at a meeting of the Public Arts Coalition, New Orleans sculptor Steve Klein made some comments that resuscitated the plans. “Steve pointed out that there were so few opportunities for young sculptors to exhibit large works,” said Pheney. The comments gave the gallery the needed impetus to revisit the plans it had set aside.

Instead of a sculpture garden that would reach only gallery visitors, the gallery decided to take the sculptures to several public areas. “We decided to spread the sculpture out among 10 different BREC parks around the city. Three sculptures will be at Independence Park, and some will be in lower income areas, sites where they will be most appreciated,” said Pheney.

Public art has long been a focus of the Baton Rouge Gallery. “We were involved in the two murals downtown,” said Pheney, “and we’ve done other smaller projects.” Public arts programs also received a boost from recent “percentage-for-art legislation,” which mandates that 1 percent of every state-funded building budget over $2 million must be dedicated to public art.

Although the gallery and BREC have selected the probable sites, they are still looking for site-specific appropriate works to install. “We want works that will fit into the community,” said Pheney. The gallery issued a call for submissions in June, and the Aug. 1 deadline is quickly approaching. Sculptors were asked to send slides of existing works. To minimize installation costs, the gallery has stipulated that no water may be involved in the installations.

Each artist will be paid $1,200 for the nine-month rental of his or her sculpture. Pheney emphasized that these will not be permanent installations. Instead, she said, “We hope to make this part of an ongoing, citywide, rotating arts program.” Pheney hopes that in the future people or corporations will choose to adopt a sculpture or a site and provide for more permanent installations.

The program is on target for its funding, thanks to gallery operating funds, BREC matching funds and funding from Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, said Pheney. The gallery is looking for corporate sponsors for individual sites to defray the installation costs.

The first sponsor to sign on has been C.J. Brown Realtors, which has agreed to sponsor the Independence Park site. Henry Avery, a C.J. Brown sales agent, sees his firm’s involvement as an extension of its role as a Louisiana public service business. “What I like about this,” said Avery, “is they’re going to have submissions from people all over the state. It will be a big boost for unestablished artists.”

Avery also hopes that the program will interest more of the Baton Rouge community in art. “It’s hard to get people to go to events for art, but if you put art somewhere people are comfortable, you can reach them. Hopefully, they’ll seek out the galleries.”

With sponsors like C.J. Brown, BREC and the Baton Rouge Gallery will be able to put the finishing touches on their parishwide public arts program.

Pheney believes that public sculpture can make a real difference to the communities it graces. She has seen it happen right outside her office at City Park, where there are statues on the lawn in front of the gallery.

“I like to watch people interact with the sculptures, especially the one with the horse, since it’s different,” said Pheney.

She has been impressed by how respectful people are toward the sculptures: “There’s an underlying respect for art,” she said, adding that the site has had almost no trouble with graffiti or vandalism.

Pheney attributes this sense of respect to the way public art tends to become a part of the community that gives it a home. “People really respond to it and feel they own it if they drive past it every day.”

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