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Tools for Transformation Funded Proposals

An Interdisciplinary Public Art Curriculum

School of Art, Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

This project will create an interdisciplinary Public Art Curriculum offered to all students, but designed specifically for students in Art, Design, Architecture, and Landscape Architecture. An interdisciplinary Public Art curriculum will be designed and planned, the incremental implementation of which will serve an estimated 80-100 interested students from all these disciplines. This will be a unique, curriculum that will be cross-listed in the various disciplines.

Maya Lin, trained as an architect, created one of the most progressive, revolutionary, and meaningful memorial sculptures of our time, the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Robert Irwin, trained as a sculptor, created one of the most dramatic examples of landscape architecture in the new Getty Museum Garden in Los Angeles. Closer to home, Martha Schwartz, trained as a landscape architect, created one of the most compelling and controversial examples of environmental sculpture in "Jailhouse Garden" sited outside of the King County Jail in downtown Seattle.

These are just three examples of how, during the past twenty years, the boundaries of the traditional disciplines of art, architecture, design, and landscape architecture have dissolved, allowing professionals in these areas to cross over artificial academic borders and create compelling, unique, and cutting-edge public art that draws from elements in each of these disciplines. Thousands of similar examples abound from around the world in the recent profession of public art. Also many historical examples can be found throughout the world where the boundaries were routinely crossed in the process of creating innovative and pivotal projects (e.g. Michaelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Frederick Law Olmsted, Antonio Gaudi, etc.). A group of dedicated and committed faculty will use these Tools for Transformation funds to create a learning model, which offers a new way for public art to be taught in our University, bringing the discipline of public art into the 21st century. We will create a truly integrated, cross-fertilized interdisciplinary curriculum in Public Art.

The contemporary public artist needs to be proficient in a multitude of skills, some of which are very different than those needed by an artist who exhibits in galleries or museums. The traditional techniques of knowing how to create objects that will withstand public exposure are still needed, skills like welding, bronze casting, and fabrication. Other skills, less traditional, but perhaps more critical, are also needed.

In addition to traditional skills, contemporary public artists now need to know how to evaluate a site, its historic uses, its traffic patterns, its physical and structural parameters, as well as its unique qualities of place. The public artist needs to determine how best to integrate an artwork with its site. These are traditionally the domains of architecture and landscape architecture. What kind of treatment can the structure bear, both physically and aesthetically? What kind of plant life or hardscape treatment should the public artwork involve? Or more to the point, how can an artwork integrate object, structure, environment, and function as a cohesive, holistic, synthesized, seamless experience? For example, it is now common for artists to design bus shelters, subway benches, and even water recycling treatment plants (e.g. Lorna Jordan’s water treatment environment in Renton). This is traditionally the domain of the industrial designer, the architect, and landscape architect.

The nature of design and art in the public domain is a collaborative endeavor, one that builds on multiple expertise, working between the boundaries of disciplines to create new connections. This requires team attitude and abilities, recognizing that there will be a need for cooperation as well as compromise.

The public artist needs exposure and experience in all of these areas, to know how to “speak the languages” of all of these professions, and how to draw and read plans and structural diagrams. They need to know construction technology and engineering in order to create large scale outdoor works that will endure and be safe to the public. They need to be able to visualize an integrated aesthetic experience on a raw site and be able to understand the community in which the work will exist... its history, culture, and aspirations. The artist’s role may be to provide a voice for the community, since the artwork will be a lasting community symbol. Therefore they need to know how to facilitate meetings and mediate conflicting views. They need to know the history of art, architecture, landscape architecture, and design, to understand the past and create unique innovative, and appropriate forms for the present and future. Furthermore, they need to be visionaries and builders and be able to understand all of these disciplines, in order to address the critical issues of our time.

This past November, an ad hoc faculty committee was formed, entitled the Public Art Curriculum Committee, with its members representing all of the related disciplines. Our goal is unanimous: to structure a meaningful way in which an interdisciplinary Public Art curriculum can be developed here on campus. We believe it essential to move to the forefront of interdisciplinary education. which will provide a model in environmental education here at the University of Washington.

Contact: John T. Young
Professor, Sculpture and Public Art
Allocation: $322,971
Date Funded: June, 2000

Progress Report June 20th, 2001

The Public Art Curriculum was launched in November of 2000 at a reception held at the Simpson Center for the Humanities. Students, faculty, art administrators and artists from the community attended the festivities.

Our first courses were taught starting in Winter Quarter 2001. Jim Nicholls, Adjunct Professor of Art and Architecture, created a new course for our program, entitled The Public Context: Out of Site. This course was designed to teach students the multitude of ways an artist/designer could analyze and evaluate the given parameters and characteristics of a site (conceptual, cultural, historic, physical, traffic patterns, etc.) in order to create a relevant, site-specific artwork. The course was enrolled with 40 students from numerous disciplines in Art, Design, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, English and others, and it received glowing reviews.

Also during Winter, Professors Daniel Winterbottom (Landscape Architecture) and John Young (Sculpture) launched the first interdisciplinary Design/Build Studio. Landscape and Sculpture students competed in a real selection process, and then completed a large-scale commission for the University of Washington Medical Center. This project was given a $10,000 budget raised by the Hospital Service League. The work is a "Healing Garden" artwork and is interactive, providing outdoor seating and a contemplative space on the third floor of the hospital veranda (just outside the barrel vault). It was recently dedicated; in attendance were the involved students, faculty, hospital volunteers and numerous medical center officials. It too has received rave reviews from patients and staff. All fourteen students from both disciplines involved in the design and fabrication of the project received Commendations of Merit from the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects for this work. In addition, some of the Sculpture majors executed individual public artworks for the hospital interior and received scholarship funds to purchase materials for their works. A few of these works have been added to the permanent art collection at the hospital.

In Spring Quarter of 2001, two more courses were taught in the new program. John Young continued teaching his existing Public Art Field Study class, touring the vast collection of public artworks throughout the city, often with the artists who created the works (our visiting artist budget provided honoraria for at least a dozen professionals to join our class in the field).

We also taught a three-way Design/Build Collaborative studio involving Professors Louise St. Pierre from Industrial Design, Daniel Winterbottom, and John Young. 45 students from these disciplines, both undergraduate and graduate, collaborated on two major projects at the same time.

The first project was sponsored by the Friends of Lewis and Clark in Pacific County, Washington, along with the Washington State Parks Department. The students were asked to design proposals for a monument to Thomas Jefferson in a dramatic waterfront state park in Long Beach. After visiting the site during an extensive weekend retreat involving all of the students, professors, and local community historians, biologists, parks personnel, and officials, the students created proposals for the artwork. Ten proposals were presented to the community in early June for their review and selection. One of the works will be selected to be built at an upcoming panel meeting (August 24, 2001) and $500,000 will be raised by the community to fund it.

It should also be noted that Professors Young and Winterbottom were co-principal investigators in the writing of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Grant, which they won, to assist with the expenses of creating the Jefferson proposals. These proposals are currently on display at the Ilwaco Heritage Museum.

The second project was created in conjunction with Professor Sharon Sutton (Architecture), Director of CEEDS, another Tools for Transformation program. This same group of interdisciplinary students competed, collaborated, designed, and then executed a large-scale public artwork for the Tukwila Elementary School. This work involved receiving input from the children of the school, and was funded $20,000 from Tukwila's Percent for Art budget for supplies and construction expenses. A very handsome interactive, 50-foot-diameter, mosaic plaza and earthwork was created. In attendance at the dedication of this work on June 5th were several hundred children, our 45 UW students, the Mayor of the City of Tukwila, the Superintendent of the Tukwila School District, the Principal of the school, amongst many others.

This project employed the Artmobile for the first time, a mobile studio truck fully equipped with tools to create the artwork on site. In addition to making construction easier, the children of the school were able to witness the ongoing construction of their major public artwork on a daily basis (in fact, many of the kids assisted with the construction when it was safe to do so!). The Artmobile also allowed our new program to obtain studio space without interfering with existing studio spaces and programs on campus. The use of classroom space in Mary Gates Hall assisted us in this way as well.

Throughout the year we provided graduate TA-ships for three quarters to deserving students. They proved indispensible to the creation of our new course, the public artwork in Tukwila, and the launching of our website.

Another major facet of our new program is the Distinguished Visiting Lecture Series in Public Art. In Winter and Spring, we brought in some of the most renowned practitioners in the field, including Michael Singer, Nancy Connery, James Wines, and Suzanne Lacy, all of whom delivered public lectures to our students and members of the Seattle community, as well as meeting with the students in seminar style discussions.

This summer we look forward to our first self-review to determine what we did, how well we did it, and where we go from here. Transformation is not without its challenges and we faced some, both politically, territorially, and learning/teaching collaboration. We are all extremely pleased with our first results, and we are eager to design a program that tackles these challenges.

Our initial experiences with cross-disciplinary work has shown us that this is a surprisingly fertile area of growth and learning for the students. Students claim that they have learned a great deal from other disciplines, most especially through the close contact work involved in the studio experience. Our own observations include:

Commitment to the design-build studios was well over and above that seen in other classes. Students reported that these major efforts paid off in terms of the amount of intense learning, which many of them see as being directly related to the knowledge needed in their major.

Next year, new courses will be implemented, new design/build projects will be created (our next one is already in the development stages for University Heights Community Center, construction budget $38,000 already promised), and a dramatic line-up of six prominent visiting artists is being planned.

During this first year, we received over 75 e-mails from around the nation and five foreign countries inquiring about our new program. All wanted to know if it was a degree granting program. Our goal is to figure out a way to make Public Art an independent, but interdisciplinary, degree granting program for undergraduates and graduate students. We are clearly filling a niche regarding art and design education in the world today; our exciting challenge is to find a way to satisfy this need and demand.

The Public Art Curriculum Faculty
Professors Steve Badanes, Jim Nicholls, Louise St. Pierre, Daniel Winterbottom, and John Young (Chair)

Tools for Transformation Funded Proposals