Art and the city

Downtown STL Public Arts Initiative launches a project to commission public art from artists who possess a connection to St. Louis

By Charlotte Beard

In March, the Downtown STL Public Arts Initiative announced its InSITE 2020 project to commission public art from artists who possess a connection to St. Louis. The art will be displayed from one month to one year. The initiative was kicked off with two informational sessions and two walking tours of Downtown St. Louis in the areas that will be impacted by the project. The project will be bounded by Convention Plaza, Tucker, 4th Street, and the north side of Market Street. The deadline for artist proposals is May 19.

 “The Downtown STL Public Art Initiative is a new collaboration between the Regional Arts Commission, Downtown STL which is the downtown community improvement district, and Explore St. Louis,” shared Meredith McKinley who was one of the presenters at the April 24 informational session.

McKinley, an associate of Via Partnership LLP, further shared with attendees that the collaborators came together approximately two years ago when they recognized an urgency for public art in Downtown St. Louis. 

“The conversation around public art in downtown needed to be elevated and moved forward,” stated McKinley. “So, the first thing they did was develop a downtown public art master plan. The partnership worked with an advisory group to put that together.”

McKinley shared that public input from participant workshops, focus groups, and surveys filtered through the Regional Arts Commission helped form the creation of the Downtown STL Public Art Master plan. The 94-page plan can be downloaded as a PDF from the Regional Arts Commission’s website at https://racstl.org.

McKinley stated, “We also identified overarching goals I think are important to keep in mind because they set the framework for the InSITE project.”

One of the goals is to encourage walking and exploration of downtown’s streets. 

“It seemed like (with) every conversation we had someone talk about the experience of walking downtown or a connection between different parts of downtown – how you can’t get people to walk from the library to the Blues Museum.”

Another goal is to enable people to see downtown as a place of possibility.

McKinley stated, “To me that’s really part of the spirit of InSITE 2020 – the idea that if you have an ‘idea’ as an artist, then downtown is a place where you can realize that idea. This is an activity reinforcing the identity of downtown. It’s where we come to celebrate. It’s where we come to protest. It’s where we come to pay our parking tickets.”

She went on to encourage artists to be very inclusive in their project proposals and aim to portray Downtown St. Louis as a welcoming place, which is another one of the plan’s goals. 

“We have thousands of visitors who come to downtown from all over the region and all over the world. How can public art help welcome those people to our city?  The initiative’s (aim) is to not do everything but (it desires) to be a leader and work with others to make projects happen. InSITE 2020 is the initiative’s first (attempt) at commissioning public art. We decided to structure it a little bit differently than traditional public art competitions.”

With InSITE 2020, part of the Downtown STL Public Art Initiative master plan is to seek the ideas of current and former St. Louisans who are artists for their ideas as opposed to some of the more restrictive commissions that artists may experience. The ideas include both creative input and the specific site for their creativity. 

Artists have a budget range of $5,000 to $30,000 which covers design, supplies, insurance, engineering, fabrications, delivery, installation and de-installation. The total budget available for all projects is $100,000. Proposals that are received by May 19 will be evaluated by the Downtown Public Art Advisory Committee to determine the 10 selected finalists for the project. The finalists are expected to be announced in late June. The committee consists of: Wassan Al-Khudhairi, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Patricia Smith Thurman, 10th Street Gallery; Fedra Ekres – Artist; Jenny Ryan, PGAV; Peter Tao, Tao + Lee Architects; Gavin Kroeber, independent curator; and Mary Walsh, McElwain Fine Arts. The committee advises artists who have further questions about the process to submit them to Angie Villa at villa@viapartnership.com by May 9. The responses will be posted at vision.racstl.org by May 13.

 “We have met with the parks department, street department, Metro Arts In Transit, Bi-State Development Agency, Great Rivers Greenway – they all are aware of this project and they know we’re coming,” stated McKinley. “So, if you’re thinking about siting, the easiest thing will be to consider public property. However, if you have an idea for a project and it absolutely will only work (in association with) private property we will work with you to try to make that happen. We will work with Downtown STL who has relationships with all the property owners in downtown to try getting an agreement with the property owner. If you have ideas for the characteristics of the space that will give us a little more flexibility in thinking about a site.”

McKinley further explained that artists should not be concerned with preliminary meetings with property owners for their ideas. All ideas are to be presented via the online application. The 10 finalists selected for the project will be connected to the necessary site contacts.

Brigid Flynn, one of the co-founders for Midwest Artist Project Services (MAPS) provided attendees of the informational sessions with a very thorough breakdown of how to write an artist statement and effective proposal. 

“We provide artist consultations, professional development education, and fiscal sponsorship for artist projects,” shared Flynn.

A detailed informational slide-deck that was used for the informational sessions can be found on the Regional Arts Commission’s website. To compete in this InSITE Downtown STL Temporary Public Art Ideas Competition visit www.callforentry.org to complete the online application.

CUTLINE: Submitted image The Downtown STL Public Arts Initiative announced its InSITE 2020 project to commission public art from artists who possess a connection to St. Louis.