Art Matters: Innovators
Jenny Sharaf's Public Art Tour
We spoke with the San Francisco-based artist and curator, Jenny Sharaf, about art in public spaces, the role of funding in creativity, and her brand new Public Art Tour project.
|Photos: Kate Dash|
|Interview: Travis McMichael|
How did the Public Art Tour project come about? What conditions led to this type of initiative being realized?
In the last few years, my curatorial work has been focused on public events that champion contemporary artists and attempt to capture a bohemian essence that sometimes seems lacking in the current San Francisco art scene. An organization called GRHCBD approached me with a desire to activate the neighborhood on nights and weekends, exposing areas that are public, often overseen, that happened to feature museum-caliber public art. They had heard about my curatorial work on previous projects: Art Night SF, Parking Lot Art Fair and Way Out West.
Bringing artists back into the project was the real exciting part for me. There’s nothing like learning about art through an artist. Unless you’ve been to art school or taken a class during college, you might not know that. Public Art Tour clearly relates to many other things I’ve done, but it is the first initiative I’ve led that feels like a mix of urban planning, curatorial work and arts education. It’s an experiment that I hope people enjoy. The enthusiasm lies around wanting to share the art experience.
With the current administration calling for severe budgetary cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other federally funded arts programs - how does this impact on public art?
It’s hard to measure art’s impact on our world in metrics, but you know when it’s not there, and you feel it when our artists aren’t supported. The culture hurts for it. We are in very frightening times and our current administration doesn’t believe in the power of the arts and is in the process of cutting any funding that they can. It is more important know to bring attention to arts and culture – If you’re an artist, be loud. Continue to be expressive, creative and influence the world. Despite what our current administration thinks about the arts, this is important.
More and more, ideas of the public and culture take focus around cities. What role does public art serve to demonstrate the cultural health of a city?
The presence of public art in a city shows that it is shows prosperous, engaging and is a breathing/living organism. Public art is a placemaker to make connections and memories, create moments with people and ourselves.
What are some public art projects or pieces that have inspired you as an artist?
Katharina Grosse’s psychylustro in Philadelphia is one of my absolute favorite public art works. The scale, the colors, the active gestures. It’s all a hit in my eyes. Her work is perfect for this context and is accessible and high brow all at the same time.
Stephen Powers’ Coney Island project is a prime example of a Public Art project. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much is left or has been replaced post-Sandy. But as it originally stood, it gave homage to the past and brought it into the now in this really fresh and authentic way.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have always made some of my favorite public art work. Might be a typical answer, but Running Fence will always have an impression on me. Their massive installations speak to the public and the environment with true magic.
What’s next for Public Art Tour? Will this expand to other cities?
I hope Public Art Tour will expand! I’m trying to figure what that all looks like. I’d love to do a LA and NY version. Maybe a Tokyo chapter, since I’m there soon to do a public mural in April. Even if it starts small, it can grow to include more as people catch on through social media (#publicarttour). I would love for Public Art Tour to be a free form resource for people to discover art that was right in front of them all along.