Artists compete to decorate school

A mural of silhouettes, a brilliantly colored mosaic, or a striking piece of sculpture will grace the halls of a local school thanks to a unique Elm City arts program.

The City of New Haven’s Percent for Art program, which stipulates that 1 percent of the city’s contribution to the construction of certain municipal buildings be dedicated to the arts, is currently deciding between three finalists for a piece of art to be installed in the rebuilt K-4 Columbus School in Fair Haven, which is slated to open in fall 2007.

A nine-member committee composed of arts professionals and community members designated to develop the school’s artwork will vote on the final artist next Monday. In the past, the program has spent anywhere from $6,000 to $80,000 on each of over 30 new pieces of art installed in city-owned buildings, said Barbara Lamb, director of New Haven’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

The three proposals for the new work, designed by New England artists, have been on display at the Fair Haven branch of the New Haven Public Library since Thursday. The public can provide feedback on the designs using a questionnaire. They will be on display until March 27, at which time the committee will reconvene, hear arguments from the artists about their proposals, and decide which artist will be awarded the commission.

Erika Van Natta, Percent for Art’s program coordinator, said the goal of the program is to develop a work of art that reflects community life. The committee responsible for the Columbus School project, she said, is attempting to do just that.

“At this stage of the process it’s kind of like you’ve gone through three-fourths of a book and you’re just dying to know how it ends,” Van Natta said. “It gets very exciting when you get into the final steps.”

Betsy Goldberg, branch manager at the Fair Haven Library, said she had not seen much interest in the display, although it was only installed a few days earlier. She said previous Percent for Art displays set up in the main branch of the library have generated public response, but she expected the Fair Haven location to attract less attention because of its relative isolation.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of interest,” she said. “We don’t really have space here.”

Van Natta said that although the display in Fair Haven may receive less traffic, she feels it is important to display the proposals in the work’s destination community because the works are designed to reflect and represent that community.

As part of New Haven’s unique character, Lamb said, the program is notable as the only functioning initiative of its kind in the state. Although Stamford’s project is now defunct, she said that New Britain has begun to develop a similar program. She said officials have audited committee meetings to learn from New Haven’s example.

“I’d love the city to be more recognized for all the wonderful public art that exists here,” Lamb said. “It’s difficult enough to commission the art and maintain the art; it’s a whole other thing to market the art.”

The development process for a Percent for Art commission begins with the onset of a building’s construction. The city hires two arts professionals to work with a representative from the architect’s office and community members on a committee to decide how to incorporate a piece of art into the architect’s design, Lamb said. After possible places within the design have been designated as possible locations for art, she said, three finalists are chosen from a slide library of thousands of local artists.

“The artists meet with the architect and walk through the project,” Lamb said. “They incorporate something relevant to what the building is used for and who uses the building.”

The installation of fine art into city buildings is representative of New Haven’s diverse and myriad artistic opportunities, said Anne Worcester, chief marketing officer for Market New Haven, a partner with the Office of Cultural Affairs. The high quality of the arts in New Haven distinguishes it from other cities its size, she said.

“It’s another manifestation that really and truly what sets New Haven apart is a high concentration of the arts,” Worcester said. “This program really certifies the fact that the city government is not just talking the talk about the arts; it’s walking the walk.”

Previous commissions have included an archway by Kent Bloomer at Fair Haven Middle School designed to look like a bird in flight, Lamb said. Among other works are the sculpture “Ascending Birds” at City Hall and the “Path of Stars” along Crown and Orange streets that commemorates the lives of local figures.

Comments