written by: Tony Gill
Don’t Poke the Bear.
The bear itself strikes an inoffensive figure. Welcoming, if a bit detached, Franz lounges on a Main Street bench with an arm—leg?—waiting to embrace throngs of visitors for a selfie op. Unfortunately, Franz has become the trite and predominant emblem of Park City’s public art scene. A group of committed individuals on the Park City Public Art Advisory Board (PAAB) are aiming to change that perception and highlight a growing artistic identity that goes well beyond banal bronze animals.
“Our public art should engage the community and give a feeling and a sense of who we are,” says the Public Art Advisory Board’s chair Kathy Kahn. “It should highlight the vibrancy of our personalities and stimulate the economy and cultural aspect of providing for the community. Park City is identified with the Bear Bench, and we need to step up our game.”
Each month the PAAB gathers to review myriad proposals and make recommendations to the City Council (which controls final approval for all projects) about new installations. “We go through a committee checklist with each proposed project that includes detailed artistic and design criteria. Then there’s a democratic process where we try to get a majority of people with widely disparate tastes to agree, which means a pretty diverse array of art gets chosen,” Kahn explains. Each board member can serve only two 3-year terms, a limit designed to infuse new opinions and perspectives into the board.
Despite the motley predilections of the board’s individuals, the PAAB doesn’t get hung up. “We have a great working dynamic. We don’t always agree, but we manage to avoid impasses and get things done anyway that really make an impact,” Kahn says. “The future for us is really parlaying our funds to get the biggest bang for the buck. If it were my choice, we’d have a sculpture park, and we’re working towards getting something done on that scale.”
Park City’s public art already transcends the bronze bear with installations including avant-garde murals in pedestrian tunnels, the Sound Garden in City Park and Sheltering Aspen sculptures outside City Hall along with a host of other sculptures and paintings throughout town. Future projects aim to fill a new park with an iconic installation at the top of Main Street above the Wasatch Brew Pub. Says Kahn, “The PAAB operates within a very small border, so we’re able to make a huge impact on the community.”
Park City has made a big push to encourage people to use the town’s ample public transportation options. Next time you’re doing your part to save the environment and alleviate traffic, be sure to treat yourself and appreciate the public art installations adorning many of Park City’s bus shelters and the expansive mural in the Old Town Transit Center. For those who prefer pedal power, an art installation at the Park City MARC doubles as a bike rack.
Checkout this podcast we did discussing The Goods and Bads of Public Art.
See more inside our 2018 Jan/Feb Issue.