A Few Thoughts About Public Art…

Downtown Cats Mural
"Downtown Cats" Mural by BZTAT in Canton, OH

I am a big fan of public art.

I create it. I enjoy it when it is created by others in my own hometown. I seek it out in other cities to which I travel.


As an artist, I like to paint big.  I also like to include other people in both the creative process and the appreciation of my artwork.

As an arts enthusiast, I believe that art should be placed where everyone can experience it.

Lets face it. Only a small segment of the world goes to museums and collection galleries. A work of art that is located in a public place has the opportunity to touch and impact many more people.

As an enthusiast for community development, I recognize that public art makes a city more interesting, bringing more people to an area, enhancing its economic potential.

I think that more businesses should consider commissioning artwork for public view as a way to demonstrate their commitment to the economic development of their communities. (It is an added bonus that a public artwork with your brand’s name listed as the sponsor is very solid marketing.)

My city, Canton, Ohio, has an amazing display of public art in the downtown area. There are several large scale mural installations, painted trash cans and flower pots, large sculptures, etc.

It is even more amazing when you consider the fact that Canton has been beset by considerable economic hardship and unemployment during the same time frame that the Canton Arts District has sprung up. The passion of the artists, the county arts council (ArtsinStark), and the Canton Development Project has made it all happen in a relatively short amount of time.

And it has helped to revive a blighted area.

I frequently have out of town guests to our city stop by my studio and marvel at all the creativity here. Friends that I meet from all over the world through social media are astounded when they see and read about what is happening in Canton.

One would assume that the people of Canton would be busting with pride.

Many people are, but the critics and naysayers are there, loudly voicing their dismay.

I don’t get it, to be quite honest.

There are those who come from an academic and cultural perspective, claiming that there is no coordination and no review process for determining how public art gets commissioned and placed around town. Basically, if a building owner, funding body and an artist agree, and their are no architectural safety concerns, the work goes up.

There are also the wannabe big city “street artists” who are rebels without a cause, “tagging” public places with their version of graffiti art, pretending that there is some big “establishment” squelching their self expression.

The general public is surprisingly quiet on the whole matter.

To those critics on both sides of the issue, I say, GET A GRIP.

To the academics  — We are not New York City, for gosh sakes. It is not like we have to have masterpieces on every corner. (Although, to be honest, I think some of our public art pieces could hold their own in some of the cities around the world known as art centers.) And it is not like we have any works that test the sense of public decency. We do have quality work that is interesting to the people of Canton and out of town visitors.

To the wannabe street taggers — Grow up! Graffiti art is SO YESTERDAY. And no one is standing in your way of expressing yourself. Break the rules of art, but follow the law. If it isn’t your building and you don’t permission to express yourself on it, find a place where you do have permission.

Or else you can join the ranks of those who create prison art.

We need to have creative freedom, but we also have to have some degree of limits to maintain order. Every notable center of creative energy is going to have some tension between the two concepts.

But we could easily throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We could overreach and put too many regulations in place, which would put an end to this burgeoning, yet still fragile arts renaissance that is emerging in Canton.

We could allow a bunch of thugs to spoil it all for everyone by falling for their “bad boy” claims of creative restriction.

Lets just use some common sense, shall we?