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Arts on Fire

“Arts on Fire”

By: Emily Lightner

In 2017, the Cultural Arts Council Douglasville/ Douglas County (CAC), a non-profit organization, created its first public art initiative in a community where there was no public art. Many questions arose: are the citizens going to be welcoming of it? Are the community leaders going to be supportive of the idea? The purpose of public art is not only to enrich the community and improve our quality of life through its ability to enrich an environment, but also to ignite the imagination, encourage thought, and to prompt discourse. Public art benefits the community through placemaking, bringing people together, and can be used as a tool in economic development. Public art can also strengthen personal connections to one’s community. With all of this said, art has traditionally not been the most widely accepted medium of expression. In addition, creating and managing a public art program requires important policy decisions, close cooperation with stakeholders, and a host of other challenges. Understanding the legal issues and challenges facing the public art field is a necessity of running or participating in a successful public art program.Public art commissions and ordinances vary a great deal from program to program and project to project, and it can be quite challenging (if not impossible) to establish these.

The City of Douglasville recognized changes needed to be made to help support the CAC’s mission and goals. An outside agency was hired to help direct the City in guiding public policy and further public art plans. Working with the community was one of the most important parts of creating a successful public art program. A steering committee was formed to help implement new ordinances and a new public art master plan. The City of Douglasville is committed to developing a strong public art program and this plan was an important first step in creating the foundation for the program to grow upon. Establishing the mission and goals, along with prioritizing and adopting sound policy helped establish a strong program with guided investments that will resonate with residents and visitors.

Throughout the planning process, clear themes emerged about what Douglasville means to its residents and why it’s identity in West Georgia and the Atlanta region is important. By using these community-defined value statements, the City and other partner organizations, like the CAC, helped facilitate a future of public art that is meaningful, locally-inspired, and one that resonates with residents and visitors. The City of Douglasville adopted five policies including: Douglasville Public Art Commission and Public Art Ordinance, Responsibility and Authority of the Douglasville Public Art Commission, Collection Management Policy, Donation of Public Art Procedures, and Policy and Procedure for Maintenance. In addition, the City adopted new guidelines for Murals and public art on private property.

The Public Art Commission was formed of a seven-member body that serves principally in an advisory capacity to the Community Development Department. The Commission’s primary goal is to increase the public’s awareness of all visual arts including, but not limited to, exhibition of sculpture, murals, mosaics, photography, and video. The Douglasville Public Art Commission, as a decision-making body within the Douglasville city government, is responsible for interpreting and reviewing proposed public art projects based on the criteria identified in these policies and procedures, and making recommendations to the City Council.

The CAC, being the only Arts council in the county, took the lead on helping the community become a dynamic center for the arts. Public art benches in the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Gardens started to appear. Then the “Arts on Fire” initiative was released.  Fire hydrants in downtown Douglasville were turned into creative art pieces, along with being functional and lifesaving. “Love Where You Live” was released at the end of 2020. It is a bold, inventive way for business owners to help the CAC continue to support and promote public art within the community of Douglasville | Douglas County. This projectoffers an opportunity to be a part of an exciting campaign that champions the arts, energizes the community, promotes a sense of identity, and makes a statement throughout the region. It is a chance to help create a world of unfettered opportunity where the best and the brightest can make their marks, impact their local communities, and contribute to a more competitive forward-driven Douglasville | Douglas County.

 “The creative industries in Georgia represent a combined $37 billion in revenue, including 200,000 employed with $12.1 billion in earnings, and $62.5 billion in total economic impact. The creative industries represent 5 percent of all employment and 4 percent of all business revenue in the state”, according to Georgia Council for the Arts impact report. As arts advocates we see this everyday, we comprehend it, and question, “how do other people not realize this yet?”  There was a University of Pennsylvania study Americans for the Arts uses which found, “cities with a high concentration of the arts have higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher education scores, higher child welfare, lower crime and poverty rates.” 

Public art lives at the intersection between our past, present, and future, and also has the power to transform a city because public spaces gain social, economic, and cultural value through public art. Public art is not an art form, but rather a form of collective community expression. Public art can be large or small. It can be abstract in its subject manner or a visual representation of reality. What distinguishes public art from other art forms is the unique association of how it is made, the site on which it stands, and the artists’ intended purpose in the creation of the piece. Public art expresses community values, enhances the public realm, transforms experiences, and heightens awareness of self and others. Public art is for everyone.                                             .

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Emily Lightner is Executive Director of the Cultural Arts Council Douglasville/Douglas County. She can be reached at info@artsdouglas.org.