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Artists learn ABCs of public-art funding

  • Michael Poole, of Blue Collar Artisans in Easthampton, works in his studio in Easthampton. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Poole, of Blue Collar Artisans in Easthampton, works on the hand rail for the Emily Williston Library in Easthampton. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dee Boyle-Clapp, Director of Arts Extension Service and Todd Trebour, the program coordinator, outside the office at UMass. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Poole, of Blue Collar Artisans in Easthampton, works on the hand rail for the Emily Williston Library in Easthampton. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dee Boyle-Clapp, the director of the Arts Extension Service at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Todd Trebour, the program’s coordinator Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Poole, of Blue Collar Artisans in Easthampton, works on the hand rail for the Emily Williston Library in Easthampton. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Poole, of Blue Collar Artisans in Easthampton, works on the hand rail for the Emily Williston Library in Easthampton. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Poole, of Blue Collar Artisans in Easthampton, works in his studio in Easthampton. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Poole, of Blue Collar Artisans in Easthampton, works in his studio. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The hand rail for the Emily Williston Library in Easthampton made by Michael Poole, of Blue Collar Artisans in Easthampton. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS


For the Bulletin
Thursday, November 10, 2016

By LUIS FIELDMAN

From aesthetics to artifice, from backgrounds to brushwork and from color to composition, there’s much to learn about the ABCs of becoming an artist. Through academic study, apprenticeships and/or practical experience, artists learn, and hone their crafts.

But figuring out how to get that artwork in front of the public — and instructions for how to craft a persuasive funding proposal to mount a project publicly — is rarely taught in art school.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst Arts Extension Service aims to correct what organizers say is that crucial missing piece of an artist’s education.

“Introduction to the Public Art Process,” a free workshop hosted by the AES, will be presented Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the Jones Library in Amherst. It is the last in a series of three workshops, each averaging 25 participants, during which artists of all disciplines learn the steps necessary to produce a public arts proposal at local, state and national levels.

Founded in 1973 by now-State Senate President Stan Rosenberg, AES provides artists with educational programming, offering courses and certificates in arts management, both online and on campus.

Why public art?

By its simplest definition, public art is work that is openly accessible to everyone, but it can be much more than that, says Dee Boyle-Clapp, the director of the Arts Extension Service. In a newer interpretation, she explained, artists are sought by towns and cities to produce work that interprets a community’s needs, and to reflect them in a creative way.

“The old concept of public art meant a piece was plopped into a plaza and that was the end of it,” Boyle-Clapp said in a recent interview. “Creative place-making is ... work toward making people see what their assets in their community are and what is exciting to celebrate. ... Every place can be unique and exciting.”

All this is good news for today’s artists looking to introduce their work to the public at large. Get a commission from the local arts council to put up a piece on a town’s common, for example, and your potential audience has just increased dramatically .

Great. But where in the art-school syllabus did you see a class titled “Writing a Public Art Proposal” or a seminar going by the name “How To Get Money Out of a Town Government To Pay You To Make Art”?

That’s where the AES workshops come in, Boyle-Clapp says.

“Public Art projects, whether they are free-standing artworks or community-engagement projects, are excellent opportunities for western Massachusetts artists to expand their vision, be paid to make art, build their portfolio, and have their work seen by a diverse audience within our region and beyond,” she said. But, she adds, local artists generally lack the skills required to create professional proposals for local arts projects, let alone larger-scale projects.

The workshops address this issue, and provide artists with a broad overview of the unique issues, skills needed, and steps required to create a competitive public art project application.

It answers questions like: “How do I fund a public art project?” And “How do I incorporate public input while still maintaining my work’s integrity?” Or “What are my rights and responsibilities to the artwork once it is completed?”

While a typical public arts proposal will lay out the parameters of a project, Boyle-Clapp says, it’s up to an artist to know how to effectively respond with a detailed written presentation that states exactly why he or she should be chosen for the funding of a project.

“It's on the artist to come up with something unique and interesting and then sell the idea to a panel of judges,” she said.

Always more to learn

In 2015, Michael Poole of Easthampton answered his town's call for a piece of public art, specifically a “sculptural bike rack” to be displayed in the downtown area.

Poole, the owner of Blue Collar Artisans in Easthampton, makes custom works in metal, glass and wood for individuals and small businesses. Examples of his work can be found in Northampton at places such as The Roost, Jake's Restaurant, and Northampton Brewery.

Although he had never before applied for public art funding, he says, his proposal was accepted; he fabricated a bike rack in the shape of the town’s zip code, 01027, using teal-colored metal poles within a 10-foot-by-3-foot rectangular surface area. Poole received $2,600 from Easthampton City Arts+ to create and mount the bike rack, at 81 Main St.

ECA+ receives money annually from the Massachusetts Cultural Council; the town’s allotment next year will be $8,400, drawn from the MCC’s $3 million total for fiscal year 2017 — money that comes from appropriations by the state legislature and from the National Endowment for the Arts.

According to Denise Riggs, one of the founders in 2004 of ECA+, her organization tries to do one or two public arts projects a year. One-third of its budget comes from the MCC, one-third from the City of Easthampton and one-third from fundraising by local businesses.

Although his proposal was accepted, Poole says, the application process was complicated, and he completed it without the benefit of valuable knowledge he has since gained by attending one of the AES workshops, in September.

There, he says, he learned, plenty: For example, in the future, he says, he will apply for public-art funding under the name of his business, which will better protect him personally, should anything go wrong with a project.

“They talked about incorporating your business because if you are not an LLC then you are personally liable,” he said. “If you are an artist, you do not think of yourself as a business, you think of yourself as making art.”

Poole says he’s noticed that towns in the area are using the arts to help improve peoples’ perceptions of where they live. It was his hope, he says, that the rack would help unify his community.

“My theory behind the bike rack was that while not everyone is into abstract art, everyone can get into the town’s zip code,” he said.

Since installing the bike rack, Poole adds, he’s noticed an increase in business.

“It's a point of pride. It’s my work in a public place, and it’s a durable piece of work,” Poole said. “And it’s my home, so it’s nice to see it.”

The “Introduction to Public Art Process” Nov. 15 workshop is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. Contact AES at aes@acad.umass.edu or call 545-2360 to sign up. The workshop will take place in the Woodbury Room, downstairs at the Jones Library, 43 Amity St., Amherst, from 5:30 to 8 p.m.