Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Public Art Tweet for this Blog

We've decided to continue this blog in 2011 after some soul-searching.  It will not be directly following the work of the Creative Corridors Coalition, other than an occasional comment as warranted.  Even though much of the theory behind their initial planning is discussed here in our earlier articles, if you are interested in that effort, we encourage you to follow them on their website.

We do think there remains a need for a public art advocacy in our town independent of the Arts Council and our traditional local arts patronage structures.  I am a historian by training, and a community advocate by interest and passion.  I am an admirer of the arts and quality urban design by acculturation and experience.  I want our town to have a public arts commission: to involve, by citizen representatives, the whole community in the selection, creation, and enjoyment of public art works.  That's infrastructure building, and value assessment, by a community. We're not there yet.  I'd like for us to be.

To that end I have, after ending our "arsurbi" Twitter account, begun a new "arsurbi2" Twitter feed where, a couple of times a week, I will highlight stories from the web about public art and its appreciation, creation and struggles from our state, region and the world.  We live in a place of information overload.  But we also live in relevant-information decision-making deserts sometime.  Maybe the Tweets and this year's blog will help our community with that.  That's the hope anyway. More next week.
Photo of Northumberland sunrise from

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

While You and I Are Waiting for Business 40, Let's Help Design It

If you have not expressed an opinion about proposed Business 40 changes to bridges, interchanges and road design as presented at three NCDOT public meetings in mid-October, please do so soon, and contact NCDOT and City Council members with your ideas.

Although the timetable is not firm for when the work will be done, decisions are being made now on what will be done when it starts. One proposal for saving money and changing traffic is to close the bridge at 4th Street connecting the West End to Peters Creek Parkway, making a cul-de-sac there passing right in front of
Hawthorne Art Gallery. Please check the pdfs listed below to see all choices proposed for the several bridge interchanges, and a link to a pdf of the comment form you can print and send to NCDOT.

Sadly, the Winston-Salem Journal did an unusually and truly terribly inaccurate job both in advertising and in reporting on the details of what actually was shown to the public at these October meetings (using graphics from the January 2010 Old Salem meeting on their website links still, for example).  And NCDOT at their Business 40 site ( has not yet updated it with these new choices as they told me they would be doing to allow further informed citizen input. Then again, they haven't really updated citizen info online since 2008. They do seem to staff a public meeting well (though I've yet to get an email from them after signing in with an email at every one of the half-dozen events I've been to).

Here are links to online copies of the very informative packets NCDOT provided at these public meetings:
An Overview of the Business 40 Project Thru October 2010
Detailed Design Drawings of the Alternatives at Each Interchange
Working Groups Plan for the Future and Contact Info to Share Your Opinions With
Public Comment Sheet

Friday, July 16, 2010

Coda: "Creative Corridors" Receives NEA Funding Endorsement

From an Arts Council press packet: "[Yesterday] the National Endowment for the Arts announced a $200,000 matching grant to The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and The City of Winston-Salem as a result of a joint proposal made to its Mayor’s Institute on City Design 25th Anniversary Grant program. Randall Tuttle, Chair of the Coalition, can be reached at 336.725.4411 or . Christine Gorelick, Vice President of External Affairs, The Arts Council, can be reached at 336.725.2585. Creative Corridors Coalition has reserved the Web site www.creative, which will be operational soon."

The NEA award shows national acknowledgment of the merits of the ideas for Business 40 improvements advocated here by your author and by the Arts Council's Public Art and Design Committee for over two years now. The ideas still need ongoing local support: vocal, financial, and inspirational. We refer you to the Corridors group website for their further development and ask you to stay involved with their plans. - JEE

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The end of a blog and paths forward

Looking west from County Kerry, Ireland. By Stefan Tarzan.

A local issues blog like this one is, at its best, a reflection of things current, an agitator and encourager for things better, and a celebration of those better ideas made elsewhere concrete, all brought together with zeal and synergy by the blogger as he recruits fellow believers in the one quality humanity should never hoard or put a price on - hope. My initial hopes for this particular blog were to get other friends excited by the possibilities for better quality of life, economic development, and civic pride by having a more aesthetic and artistic design in the re-building of the Business 40 interstate corridor through Winston-Salem. This interstate idea had been bandied about among the dozen or two folks who made up the Public Art and Design committee of our local Arts Council; but as we lacked funds and interested partners in the public arena to champion the idea in 2008, I suggested that we could at least post some news on a blog and keep people informed.

Thirty months later, after public education meetings and slide shows by committee members; after a contest run by two art administration students to showcase "what-if" ideas; after public speakers and artists and architects were brought to town by local cultural institutions; after residents sent me and others stories and pictures of their holiday travels; after internet visitors from every continent with highways visited this site (occasionally with words of support and inquiries of our efforts); after a separate "Bridges" group was formed last summer by representatives of the Arts Council and the local Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Partnership, the City Appearance Commission and state and local transportation officials; and after representatives of fifty-plus business and community organizations endorsed the idea of requesting better, more aesthetic, more memorable design in a meeting in November with three State Cabinet secretaries (Commerce, Transportation, and Cultural Resources), the announcement of a new non-profit "Creative Corridors Coalition" is at hand. Thanks to a gift of funds by Winston-Salem Foundation award-winner and PA&DC member Doug Lewis, the Coalition even has seed money for its work. The task for which this blog was established, to grow friends for an idea and pass it on, is now complete. A thank you, heartily and happily, for all who have helped in that goal.

Frank Gehry's BP Bridge, Millennium Park, Chicago. From iamhydrogen on Flickr.

Now I am well aware that the tasks of getting attention and of getting results are two different things. After so many words here, it may help to remind all of the result that this particular writer wants out of a Business 40 re-build for our city: a top-quality functional roadway (I drive the route often, in traffic), made architecturally and artistically distinct (I'd like my visitors to want a poster of it), economically inviting (I'd like it to say "can do" in a way that invites business folks to move here and help us grow our economy), and - since I think I pay enough taxes - I'd like for this to be done at no additional cost to the taxpayer. I'd like the design team to figure out how "better" and "prettier" and "cooler" can be done cheaper. After surveying through this blog the experience of so many around the country and world, I am convinced that the only way to get all of that is to bring in "fresh design eyes" - outside design and artistic advice - for the whole corridor at the beginning of the design project.

NCDOT Business 40 presentation in winter 2010. By your blogger, before this.

But because it hasn't happened here before, there are dangers on the pathway to "creative corridors" (an idea which, if modeled in implementation along Business 40, might travel well around the city). The biggest danger may be in shortchanging our possibilities from the outset. We don't dream big enough, long enough. Tonight was to be the next meeting of a NCDOT working group on the Business 40 project. There was same day public notice of this meeting in the paper, and though there is a brief notice on the project's website, that site has not been seriously updated since 2008. Unofficial word from one DOT representative said that tonight would be a discussion of “concepts” for the Business 40 bridges project that, due to time constraints, would discuss which bridges “we’ll do and which ones we will not.” Now amongst the four major groups making up last summer's discussion of the highway work, there was some discussion of limiting which of the bridges to be replaced in the project might get extra attention. But that is the exact wrong approach at this stage of planning. It is a remnant of the typical contracting process for building roadways - assigning a portion of a project or a bridge at a time (on the current stretch of Business 40 moons ago, each bridge was done by a different contractor). The goal of our PA&DC original proposal was not to add new "art and design sprinkles" to an existing construction cupcake, but to challenge our road-builders and our community to come up with new ways of expressing something about our place with its highways while ensuring the task of our safe travel.

New tasks require new thinking. And not just from transportation officials and potential subcontractors. Politicians, who locally have shown innovation and political risk-taking on other largely private investments - the baseball stadium's multi-million dollar loan and today's news of another $200,000 grant to the downtown biotech park - have yet to champion in their official capacities this effort or have the city establish a needed community-wide citizens' commission to give advice on the planning, purchase, and maintenance of public art projects. A $200,000 grant would have surely helped us secure top-flight national or international design advice - but the taxpayer in me would be happy if our city and county leaders just formally resolved that this issue was important, and organized a government body for ongoing public art and design issues. Winston-Salem has been blessed with a few special individual benefactors to guide our cultural investments. But given that our local economy is no longer as centralized as it once was, citizens shouldn't have to depend solely on private largesse for enhancements to our economic and cultural investment in the arts. The Corridors Coalition presents business and philanthropic leaders with a new kind of project (hiring of expert design advice) - one which may not offer its benefactors any direct perks of privilege, and which may in fact only succeed as more community stakeholders without financial investment are invited to share thoughts on design and its impact with the design team. Finally, average citizens have to think anew about what is wisdom in how we spend scarce tax dollars - a creative thinking, that doesn't reactively shy-away from all spending but demands of needed investments that they be done better and with a goal of multiple impacts.

Those who support these ideas for better transportation design, be vigilant of distractions, but be encouraged. Those who question their feasibility or wisdom, engage with your neighbors in a debate about your questions and ways to make our place better for all, realizing we can use both the talents that are unique to this place and talents of others that are uniquely skilled in place-making. There is a faith quote that says when the Spirit is on the people, the old shall dream dreams and the young shall see visions. And, as the Cardinal once said, "Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true." Winston-Salem, "ars urbi serviat." Let art serve your city.

-J. Eric Elliott, 18 May 2010