How public art may show much more value in NEO

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Wed, 08/30/2006 - 06:11.

I took the rapid transit from Shaker Heights to the Terminal Tower last night and rather than continue home to Ohio City by bus or train I decided to walk across the Veterans Memorial Bridge and see the public art there, and enjoy the spectacular views of the flats and city by night. It was the first time I ever walked across the bridge and knowing it was a place community leaders invested much time and effort I was hopeful it would offer a good NEO experience. What I found was good art and facilities on the bridge, but a tragic disconnect created in the delivery of the experience to the public. While the bridge now features cool lighting and public art installations, a wide pedestrian sidewalk, a bike lane, seating and even a bike rack, the good experience was entirely obliterated by an oppressive 10 foot tall wall of metal spikes set, about three inches apart, from one end of the bridge to the other, not only destroying the experience of enjoying the bridge and art, but obstructing one of the most dynamic views in America. Who is to blame?

 

I imagine some ODOT or county ruling is responsible... perhaps homeland security measures... some law that any place where the public may pass over another road by foot must be fenced higher than a person may be able to climb or throw objects, or any place where a suicide may occur must be encased in steel bars?! The Abbey Road Viaduct extension is even worse, being lined with concrete barricades and encased in chainlinked fencing to the heavens, like some cruel Guantanamo prison walkway. Not only is downtown Cleveland no longer a pleasant city in which to walk from place to place, but the experience has been made oppressive by roadway managers and community leaders who clearly never walk anywhere. We need NEO planners to start walking the streets of NEO and think about the experiences they provide the public, as we need them to change the NEO experience from a sprawl and car based existence to a walkable, livable neighborhood community. They don't get this challenge, from the Lincoln Town Cars and freeways, but they must.

Worse, as a result of the disconnect between community planners and public art planners, huge amounts of money and effort are misdirected to places that are not attractive to the public, like the Veterans Memorial Bridge, and most recently with the painting of murals at the end of the off ramp of westbound Route 2 at W. 28th Street, which many drivers rush by daily but where very few people wander for casual reasons. Good art is wasted on bad sites, and the value of good public art is trivialized in the process.

As I am in the process of redefining what "May Show" means to art and NEO, I will be exploring how we may better promote and leverage the public art NEO has and will add in the future for higher community value and appreciation. If people can't get to the public art we have, or don't see it for the walls and fences blocking the views, then I'll bring it to the people using better technology than we have in the past. My belief is in the process people will become more interested in existing and future public art projects and so more demanding for great public experiences, becoming leaders in the public art movement and so preventing poor decisions by community leaders with respect to art placement and investments.

 

Ultimately, about the only thing one can appreciate from the imprisoning experience of walking across the Veterans Memorial Bridge at night is the view into all the condos of Stonebridge, and the realization that none of the residents there seem to have any art in their lives - you see blank wall after blank wall, and TV after TV. Perhaps if we do a better job of educating this community about art, through better promotion and management of public art, all these white walled TV watching affluent young Clevelanders will become art appreciators and their walls may show their pride in the great artists and so we produce in this region.

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Interesting development on Veterans Memorial Bridge

A few weeks ago I noticed a work crew up on the Veterans Memorial Bridge dismantling the steel spike wall that obstructed the view from the top section of the bridge, by the seating and observation area, and installing a much lighter wire mesh fencing. They were working on it again this week, I believe expanding the view further down the bridge. While I would prefer nothing to block the view, I suppose there is a safety concern and this is certainly a more functional approach. Perhaps they've been planning this for months, or perhaps this is a result of someone becoming aware of the problem through this posting on REEALNEO, and thus recognizing an issue and solving it. Either way, this is a positive development for NEO. Good work, whoever is responsible for this upgrade.

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