by Larry Akers
Friends of the Parks of Austin Stakeholder, Town Lake Park Community Project
Although most of master planning effort of the stakeholder group for Town Lake Park focuses on physical layout and design, there is one policy aspect of the original Master Plan that I think we should discuss for revision.
The park’s art master plan guidelines, among other things, established that “all artwork for the park be commissioned to assure site-specificity”, so that the installation must be new and original. This would rule out any placement of pre-existing pieces such as might appear in a sculpture garden or otherwise be a centerpiece element of the park. Works by sculptors such as Charles Umlauf would be forbidden, as would acquisitions or donations of any existing artworks, regardless of their merit or appropriateness to the site. Estate collections, a foundation of most art venues, would be forbidden. Effectively, this would turn the park into a market for new pieces developed only by artists familiar with the park. Fostering local art production is not a bad goal in itself, but because of its exclusivity the policy limits the park from a world of possibilities. While this serves the goal “to encourage involvement by local and regional artists/artisans”, the primary emphasis is on the creation of new artwork rather than the quality of the park experience.
Furthermore, “The acceptance of gifts of art and the purchase of existing artwork for the .. acres that comprise Phases I-IV of Town Lake Park will be strongly discouraged.” It certainly is. The policy process for gifts of art and commemorative art states “proposals for actual artwork will not be considered”, and that while a commemorative individual or event may be suggested, “The specific form that the commemoration takes will be determined by the AIPP Panel when funding is available.” A donor may suggest an artist to execute a piece, but this recommendation will only be “considered” by the AIPP Panel. Not only do these terms greatly discourage philanthropic contribution, which almost always comes with a requirement for the advise, consent, and direction of the donor, but it places all artistic direction for a donation in the hands of a committee required and dedicated to supporting local artists. In effect, both the availability of the cultural park as an art venue and the potential for donor funding are turned to the goal of local artist employment and only secondarily to the park experience. The policy for art acquisition is more about committee control than the park’s quality; the park’s art program effectively creates an enforced cartel for local artist employment.
Town Lake Park’s cultural elements should definitely be a reflection of our community. But that reflection needs to be broader than a snapshot of current art production as favored by the AIPP committee. It should be allowed to incorporate our community’s legacy of art production and art collection, our broader tastes as well as our current productivity. So I hope as part of our work we can revisit this policy, which was formulated by artists primarily in the interest of artists, and generalize its approach to one that is formulated with input from the broader community primarily in the interest of our community’s cultural park.