Marylanders are fortunate to be surrounded by art on all sides—the natural beauty of the mountains, bay, and ocean; stunning monuments; spectacular private collections filling museums and galleries; and, increasingly, fascinating pieces of public art popping up everywhere from town squares to Metro stations.
“We know that communities across the state are invested in embracing the arts,” says Lucas Cowan, public art program director for the Maryland State Arts Council.
“And increasingly, public art is a coveted part of the community arts portfolio. Under the leadership of Governor O’Malley, the arts have impacted the quality of life here in Maryland, as well as the economy, and public art is part of that success story.”
Public art—creations designed to be displayed in communal spaces for the pleasure and enrichment of all—dots the Free State in unexpected and breathtaking ways. There are dozens of pieces scattered liberally from the western counties to the Eastern Shore, including “The Poetry and Art in Rural Maryland Project 2010-2012” by Bill Dunlap, which splashes color across the barns of the state for the wanderer down “the road less traveled.”
“Bill Dunlap is about a third of the way through a project to paint a large-scale mural on at least one barn in each of the state's 23 counties,” says Cowan.
“According to Dunlap, ‘We didn’t want the murals on the side of the highway. Instead, we wanted to find locations that were really off the beaten path, where people had to search and find the place and maybe get lost on their way and, in doing so, discover parts of Maryland that you don’t usually see.’”
In Heidi Lippman’s “Connections 2006,” installed at the Rockville Memorial Library, a mundane, utilitarian floor is transformed into a magical expanse.
“Lippman,” says Cowan, “draws on her travels to Italy to bring what she calls the ‘depth of color, atmosphere, and concept’ to this bold design.”
And in Baltimore’s “Pierce’s Park, 2012,” artist David Hess challenges the eye and delights the ear with his metal designs. Cowan describes the creation as “a musical fence built with aluminum sound tubes shaped like three large bowties echoing the shape of the large sculpture. Each instrument incorporates both pentatonic and diatonic scales and can be played by the public.”
Cowan spends his professional time working with public art, the artists who create it, and the organizations that fund it.
“There is a vast array of functions for public art within our communities and within our daily lives as individuals,” he says.
“While everyone relates differently to a specific work, we see throughout the country and the world that strong public art creates a real sense of place that people recognize and want to experience. The St. Louis Arch, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore—these are grand, large-scale works that are synonymous with their places.”
Here in Maryland, he continues, “We see a mix of funding sources for public art, which speaks to the fact that so many different groups are embracing public art as a powerful way of engaging communities with their own unique values and messages, while also enhancing the landscape.
“At its best,” Cowan adds, “public art is mindful of its context, well integrated to the purpose of its place, and touches on the priorities we share as Marylanders: education, quality of life, and the attractiveness and cultural vitality of our state.”
For more information on the Maryland State Arts Council and public art, visit www.msac.org.