Feature Article - October 2018
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Get Inspired

Incorporating the Arts Into Parks

By Dave Ramont


WFAC encourages applications not only from painters, but a wide range of artists. "We accept professional and established artists as well as emerging artists that are either in or have completed a graduate program," Stewart said. The program provides living space in an historic on-site cottage, and use of a large new studio equipped with various art supplies. No financial stipend is available, though some artists have secured other grants to help finance their participation. WFAC does not tend to acquire new work by AIR participants, though on occasion Weir Farm NHS has, recently acquiring a collection of paintings done by an artist during her residency.

Stewart explained that a three-member jury selects the artists. "The jurors we select tend to come from the art world, including museum curators, gallery owners, art history professors, graphic designers, etc. We like to change the jury up on a yearly basis to keep the viewpoints fresh and exciting."

Stewart added that many of the AIR programs are managed in partnership with other organizations, rather than run strictly by the NPS site.

For many years, the St. Charles, Ill., park district has been presenting free concerts at Lincoln Park every Thursday throughout the summer, and more and more communities are following suit with their own concert series. These are typically geared toward families, a place to mingle and socialize while the kids dance and play.

Erika Young, public relations and marketing manager for the St. Charles Park District, said their concerts are extremely popular, with 800-plus people typically showing up, though certain acts may draw closer to 1,500.

Vendors pay a fee to sell hot dogs, ice cream and pizza. "Each of them keeps 100 percent of their sales," Young said, "and their fee helps cover the cost of the event."

Local sponsors help offset the cost as well. "Recreation staff books the entertainment each March. We choose depending on cost, band popularity and music type. There's an event held each year in November called SPRA where entertainment businesses come showcase their talents to area park districts."

Across town in St. Charles, at Mount Saint Mary Park, the Sculpture in the Park program takes place. Young said it's been a prime example of inter-agency cooperation, as the park district partners with the nonprofit St. Charles Park Foundation to manage and promote the acclaimed annual event, made possible by contributions from corporate sponsors and individual donors. Local, regional and national sculptors are featured.

"Sculpture in the Park was designed to create awareness of the sculptural arts and the synergy that can be achieved when such works are placed within the natural beauty of a park environment," Young said. "Such works often interpret elements of nature in both abstract and realistic ways, providing innumerable opportunities for enjoyment, reflection and thought-provoking discussion."

Back in Tacoma, McBride said that if an agency is looking to increase their commitment to art, they should commit the resources to hiring arts professionals and administrators to run their programs. "I know that seems daunting to folks, but a good arts administrator can do so much with modest means. Being creative and knowing how to work with artists and the municipality or agency is a skill set that really helps programs to grow and thrive."

She's surprised the arts don't play a larger role in many park systems since they have tremendous assets—such as parks and community centers—that lend themselves to art including programming, education, exhibitions and public art.

"Art in parks is a natural fit."