Winston/Forsyth public art commission initiates master plan

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"We, Winston-Salem," a diptych by Charlotte artist Nico Amortegui, flanks the entrance of a meeting room at the Benton Convention Center. (photo by Jordan Green)

A public art plan will guide projects in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County over the next 20 years.

Over the past seven years the planning department shared by the city of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County has completed more than a dozen area plans through citizen input to guide future land use throughout the county.

Now the city and county are gearing up to use the same process to develop a public art plan that will take stock of existing inventory, identify public property conducive for new projects and gauge public sentiment on what kind of art they want to see. A public art plan has been on the Public Art Commission’s to-do list since its founding about 18 months ago, Project Planner Kelly Bennett said.

“It’s something we’ve wanted to do since we founded the Public Art Commission — to make a public art plan so that we have a more intentional workflow,” he said. “Where do we need art the most? Where is the most logical place to do it?”

Members of the commission wrestled with the question of who exactly to engage and how to productively glean ideas depending on different levels of turnout.

“Do we need to get a lot of public opinion from everyone?” asked Daniel Finn, the commission chair. “Maybe the general public doesn’t care about public art unless they don’t like it.”

Bennett responded, “I think the people who do get to these meetings would be the people who do like it. I don’t think anyone’s going to come to say, ‘I don’t like public art, and I don’t think you should do it.’”

One member asked whether the commission would solicit input through surveys or public forums.

Based on the model of area master plans, Bennett suggested first the latter and then the former.

“I would envision… you start off with a quick presentation of, what do we have here?” he said. “What are our gaps? And then break up into groups with really open-ended questions to get people at tables, take notes on what they love to see the city do over the next 20 years when it comes to public art. Once you do a meeting or two, now you have a bunch of names and addresses, and you hit them with follow-ups.”

The commission members agreed that they would put the word out through the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County; various arts organizations like Art For Art’s Sake, the Downtown Arts District Association and Piedmont Craftsmen; university arts programs; and the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.

“This has the potential of having a lot of people in it,” Bennett said.

The commissioners didn’t settle on a time to hold the first public input meeting, but Bennett encouraged them to get started soon.

“You’re gonna want a lot of public input on this,” he said. “And you’re gonna want it earlier than later.”

At its last meeting, in early January, the commission voted to grant a 30-day extension on the deadline for an ambitious project to create a collective portrait of Winston-Salem.

The reasoning behind the extension was to provide an opportunity for more people to apply, but Bennett reported that the request for qualifications had to be withdrawn to maintain compliance with the city’s minority/women business enterprise guidelines. The project will be put back out for bid through a request for proposals, which Bennett has been delayed because it required review by the city’s purchasing director, who was out last week with the flu. Once the request for proposals is issued, it will remain open for 30 days. In the meantime, interest in the project has ballooned from seven applicants to 49, Bennett said, although that number could dwindle considering that the request for proposals will be more rigorous than the request for qualifications.

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