Wednesday, May 29th

Who Selects Art for Public Places? Meet Scarsdale Resident Emily Blumenfeld

BlumenfeldNot everyone in Scarsdale is a doctor or a lawyer. The longer I live in town the more I realize that my neighbors have pursued myriad career paths and are often experts in unusual fields. I recently attended a tour of the art on the walls of the new Second Avenue subway line, run by Edelhaus Modern Art Salon and was pleased to meet Public Art Consultant Emily Blumenfeld who lives in Scarsdale.

After we looked at large mosaics done by Chuck Close, Vik Muniz and Sarah Sze hidden under Second Avenue, Blumenfeld agreed to an interview for Scarsdale10583 and here is what she shared:

Tell our readers what you do.

I am a co-founder and partner of Via Partnership, LLP, a consulting group based in St. Louis and New York that develops comprehensive public art strategies and facilitates public art projects.

Working with public agencies, developers, cultural organizations and community groups, Via plans, curates and produces public art throughout the United States and Canada.

How did you forge a career path in public art?

I have a master’s degree in Art History and have always been fascinated by patronage and how art gets commissioned. In college, I interned at the Connecticut Commission on the Arts and soon after grad school I ran a carousel (not relevant, but you do what you do) and curated exhibitions in a history park. I was able to transition into a position with Arts in Transit, the public art division at Metro in St. Louis. While there, I created a public poetry program for ad spaces in buses and trains, commissioned temporary artwork and invited artists to paint buses. While at AIT, a colleague and I decided to start Via.

How do you seek out the artists that you commission for public art - is it difficult to find talent that works on such a large scale?

Looking at art is always fun and for me it doubles as research. Typically, our clients ask us to run a public selection process which is equivalent to bid solicitations. Most often, we host invitational competitions for artists that we think would be appropriate for the site we need to commission artwork for. We share a scope of work with the artists on our list and ask them to share their qualifications for review by the client. Once selected, we work with the selected artist as a member of the design team to create a site specific proposal for their work.

Please share the names of a few upcoming artists who have created public art for our readers to get to know.

Currently, I am working with a group of five artists on an amazing project in Coral Springs and Parkland, FL, called The Power of Art: Inspiring Community Healing After Gun Violence. The project is one of five that was selected by Bloomberg Philanthropies for their 2018 Public Art Challenge. As a consultant to the cities, we have commissioned the five artists to work closely with the community to create temporary public artworks that are designed to help with the long healing process. The artists are David Best, The Ladd Brothers, Carl Juste, Kate Gilmore, and Roberto Behar with Rosario Marquardt.

The largest project I have commissioned is Wonderland by Jaume Plensa in Calgary, AB.Wonderland2012Wonderland, by Jame Plensa

What were a few of your most challenging projects?

It’s interesting working with civic clients as there is always an unexpected twist. However, my current work in Coral Springs and Parkland has been the most challenging and the most rewarding. We are working so closely with a strong, yet fragile community and it has been incredible to see the immediate impact.

Where can New Yorkers see the work of Via Partnership?

This summer I will be co-hosting an artist residency called Works on Water on Governors Island in Nolan Park, House 5B. Please come by any Saturday or Sunday from 11-5. In 2022, you will be able to an installation along the East Midtown Greenway Esplanade in the East River between 53rd and 61st by artist, Stacy Levy.

Do you think art is given a high enough priority in the planning of public places? How is it usually financed?

I would probably build city budgets differently than others, placing a higher priority on arts and culture, but there are more than 300 cities across the U.S. that have Percent for Art programs. With public art funding being tied to capital building projects, there have been some great years and some lean years. We are continuously looking for new funding models including bonusing programs and making good use of hotel/motel taxes. Creating art at a large scale may be expensive but cities are compelled to create a unique image or engage artists to help create better public spaces.

How long have you lived in Scarsdale - and why did you decide to move here?

We have been in Scarsdale since 2012. My husband grew up in Greenacres and its great to be back.

What do you like about living here?

I love the people and all of the green space.

(Pictured at top: Emily Blumenfeld with David Best, the Temple of Time artist in Coral Springs, FL.)

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