Last week we left off the public art conversation with a comment from reader Allen Hemphill. He said that if put to a vote, public art would be left in the dust compared to issues like potholes.

Lucas O’Connor, who’d written the post that Hemphill was responding to originally, wrote this challenge to Hemphill’s comment. Here are a few snippets:

As I’ve said from the beginning of this discussion, obviously if it came down to it I want EMTs more than a mural. …

When I argue the value of public art, it isn’t about the art — it’s about investing in interconnected communities that are economically stronger, publicly safer, and that have stronger relationships between neighbors fostering a sense of ownership over the public and private property of the neighborhood. …

What’s most lacking right now is strong leadership explaining the connections between public services and daily lives, and explaining how priorities such as public art are actually part of something much more fundamental and important.

Hemphill fired back:

Art-subsidy seekers are simply Charger/Padre subsidy people, writ smaller and in a more effete hand.

Special interests, all.

Could a champion of public art see anything instructive in Hemphill’s comments? It appears so.

Richard Gleaves, who blogs about the stories behind the region’s public art, wrote me this note and gave me permission to share it here. He responds to Hemphill’s comment and gives a bit of his motivations for focusing his blog over at the U-T on public art to begin with, which I found really interesting:

All Libertarians should be consigned to live in caves. But Hemphill’s right to the extent that no one — in either the city or the art community — seems to have done a very good job of explaining the purpose of public art. People know their landscape — and are rooted to it — through their knowledge of the landmarks they use to navigate with, and the landmarks themselves take on value only when people have personal connections with them. And those connections are established through story.

Stories — short, memorable stories — need to be told which enable people to connect with the artwork in their landscape, and so better connect with the landscape they live in. Rooted people are happier. And public happiness is the job of politicians.

Another public art note:

The news in San Diego that Mayor Jerry Sanders wants to cut public art funding caught the attention of Marc Barone, an artist who steered an effort in Paducah, Ky., to attract artists into underdeveloped areas of the city. (The press attention on this effort has been vast. Here’s a New York Times story on what they’ve done. And one from the Fiscal Times this June, headlined, “How to Save the Cities — Send in the Artists.”)

Barone sent me this note:

Read the article about putting public art on hold in San Diego. Very sorry to hear that. Public Art and Arts and Culture as a whole can completely transform a community especially areas of a community that are distressed. It engages people in a community in a way that can have a profound impact not only on the community itself but the psyche of the people living in that community. In underserved areas to change the psyche of the people in the community makes changing the community possible. I know I have done it. … Good luck and I hope the City of San Diego reconsiders — it would be in the communities best interest.

Who do you think is making a good point here? What would you add? You can always leave a comment or drop me a line.

Please contact Kelly Bennett directly at or 619.325.0531 and follow her on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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