Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Community Art is Sexy

"Community Bridge" by William and Teresa Cochran, and the entire town of Frederick, MD.
William Cochran, who has worked with his wife Teresa on many community art projects--most notably "Community Bridge" --spoke at NAU's Ashurst Hall last Thursday night.

For eight months now, I've been trying to formulate and articulate my burgeoning thoughts about how Americans should attend more art events, how art helps make us better people, and how art plays a huge role in a sense of community.

But on Thursday, I heard the PREACHER of art and community (and even though he was preaching to the choir, it was a very loud, responsive choir.)

Right away, William made clear his thoughts that "Culture becomes a lubrication for living together" (which makes art sound really sexy,) and talked about how public art can help ease the friction of living in close quarters with other people (it's basically the macro equivalent of manners).  It unites people across divisions.  "The power of culture derives from its social networks," Cochran said.  Meaning that public art is powerful and successful when many different networks and groups are involved, listened to and engaged. 

Cochran also talked about the 'danger' of gentrification, and warned that diversity, revitalization and involvement all need to be present to prevent displacement of lower-income residents. Although every public art project is risky business (gentrification being one of those risks,) art can also leverage a community for engagement and change. "It can be a powerful catalyst," said Cochran.

I thought it was perfect timing, and appropriate knowledge for our own Flagstaff community projects--especially the most recent revitalization project in Southside.  In last Thursday's FlagLive's article "Southside Rising", Eric Betz, the author, posed the question, "The Southside is seeing the most revitalization in its history, (such as the city's street projects, new artistic bike racks and street furniture) but can it keep developing without losing its soul?"

Questions like that make me remember what I love about Flagstaff.  We're always asking ourselves "Yes, but does it have soul?"  Large budgets can never replace "style", and community art projects must reflect the distinctive styles of many people.  People of Flagstaff seem to innately know this.

And so I leave you, Flagstaff citizens, with a paraphrase of William Cochran's hypothetical question.  "If it were possible to create any kind of public art at all in Flagstaff, what would you create?"

The possibilities are endless.
You can  see The Story of Community Bridge, a 30 minute video produced by Perspectives Group Media here

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