Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

David and Art - “Public Art in the Aftertimes”

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Murals and sculptures can help make our reopening cities more vibrant and lively.

Click to listen to this episode:
Click the title above to read along.

Emerging from the solemnity of a global pandemic gives cities of any size a chance to reevaluate what makes our public life vibrant. As civic life begins to return, we have the chance to encounter its elements with fresh eyes. Public art can be a joyous expression of this new day. I don’t know of any one civic element more so than that, that can embody a sense of reawakening and renewal.

One of the most impressive pieces of public art I know is a remarkable bronze sculpture in my hometown of Irving, called “Mustangs at Las Colinas.” It portrays nine larger-than-life mustangs splashing across a creek and was unveiled in 1984. It immediately became one of the symbols of the city, which, at that point, had nothing whatsoever like it. I had never heard the phrase “public art” before, but I knew this was a special place. Other examples of similar art, however, like murals, didn’t follow in the mustangs’ hoofprints. Somehow the sculpture created no broader artistic energy.

Today, social media is transforming the way we interact with public art, making it much more familiar and vastly extending its reach. Doing a quick search on Twitter and Instagram for the hashtag “#publicart” brings up photographs of striking works in cities all over the country, from San Francisco to Omaha to Virginia Beach. When I looked just now, I found hundreds of photos of the mustangs.

Earlier this summer down in Houston, a group of artists painted more than 20 murals around the city as part of something called the “Big Walls Big Dreams mural festival.” It was a public art initiative that sought to beautify the city while providing new inspiration and optimism to residents and visitors as we cautiously emerge from our quarantines.

At the end of this month in the city of Redmond, Oregon a new public ordinance goes into affect that will allow murals on the exterior of commercial buildings for the first time in nearly 70 years. Having a vibrant painting compared to a grey wall, said the head of the city’s art commission, is “a win-win for everybody.”

The nicest recent addition to Waco’s public art collection has been the line of wonderful and creative animal sculptures through Cameron Park along the river. But in the coming year, the city could decide to embrace an even more active program of public art. There’s much about the city that’s booming but there are still lots of blank walls for murals and tackling those would make downtown even more vivid. The coming year, Year One after the Pandemic, is a great time to make public art an even bigger part of our civic energy.

David Smith, host of David and Art, is an American historian with broad interests in his field. He’s been at Baylor University since 2002 teaching classes in American history, military history, and cultural history. For eight years he wrote an arts and culture column for the Waco Tribune-Herald, and his writings on history, art, and culture have appeared in other newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the Dallas Morning News.