Not Just for Instagram: How Public Art Helps the Community

Yes, I can see how those Soho murals might warrant a supposedly “candid” photoshoot of you and your friends looking down, smiling, at your hipster Stan Smiths. (Don’t worry, I have a pair myself.) And yes, I’ve seen all the tourists that pause in front of the “LOVE” sculpture for a minute to take a few pictures of their kids crawling between the letters, oblivious to the fact that they are disrupting the morning commute of a dozen grumbling New Yorkers. How clever, how novel.

But what if I told you public art can serve as more than just an interesting backdrop for Instagrams? Community leaders and artists across America are using murals as a powerful tool to renew America’s beaten-down, forgotten communities. Take, for example, Wynwood, Florida, a neighborhood just a few miles outside of downtown Miami. Once a neglected, even dangerous, garment warehouse district, the neighborhood is undergoing a revitalization thanks to Tony Goldman and his Wynwood Walls, inspiring other artists to paint the abandoned buildings surrounding the fenced exhibit. The Walls hold the works of world-renowned street artists such as Lady Pink, DALeast, Cryptik, and Fafi, though outside is arguably just as impressive; the art of Kashink, Kenny Scharf, and Interesni Kazki, among many others, adorn the sides of most warehouses. (Go ahead, Google them. They won’t disappoint.) Bringing additional fervor to Miami’s annual Art Basel festival, Wynwood now attracts street-art enthusiasts, distinguished artists, and casual tourists, who dine at new, trendy restaurants and shop at the retail stores beginning to dot the area. The artwork not only makes the city more pleasant visually, it makes it more prosperous.

Of course, there’s more to art than it being displayed in a public venue. I’m not talking about stuffy art galleires filled with musty paintings and crabby security guards. I’m thinking more along the lines of Pinot’s Palette, a private space for people to come together and let their artistic sides show. Across the United States, this concept is accomplishing more than bringing together moms and their glasses of pinot noir, although I won’t deny this is a pretty worthy cause. Take, for example, Nicole McGee and her Upcycle Parts Shop, located in Cleveland’s St. Clair Superior neighborhood, an area hit hard by the recession. Partnering with important community leaders and receiving grants from several foundations, McGee founded the Shop in 2014 as a center for neighborhood residents to deposit their creative materials for reuse. The Upcycle Parts Shop not only encourages residents to upcycle, it serves a social purpose as well: the “art bar” in the middle of the building offers a cost-efficient, unique opportunity for visitors to express themselves through their creations made from yarn, glitter, glass vases, and keys. LeBron, there’s a new girl in town.

Don’t feel like Chris Christie and our lovely New Jersey state government have abandoned us just yet. (I know, sometimes it seems like the “cool” artsy stuff only happens a plane ride away– except, of course, our Soho murals.) The New Jersey State Council on the Arts acknowledges and financially supports the arts in educational and community settings, and realizes the positive impact that the arts can have on economics and industry. The state government offers many opportunities for grants, which is helpful in case you ever have a sudden urge to put on a concert or folk art performance. On the local level, the Ridgewood Arts Council helps promote and publicize art events, hosts several events throughout the year, and even offers Ridgewood students scholarships.

Confronted with this wealth of information just bestowed upon you, you may be wondering how to get involved. Start by checking out the clubs at RHS that are committed to achieving this mission. Poke around on the Ridgewood Arts Council website for upcoming events. Write a petition to bring a re-creation of Burning Man to Vet’s field. Send the petition to Chris Christie. Whatever you do, don’t just sit there. Helping your community through the arts not only benefits the people around you, it is personally rewarding and enjoyable.

Now please excuse me, while I choose the perfect VSCO filter (A6 or T1?) for this selfie in the reflection of the Bean.

Sophia Swanson
staff writer

Graphics: Jessica Chang

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