By: Monique Dennis Photos by: Rachel Benavides
As a lover of art, traveling to different destinations to enjoy public art on display is always a treat. I know I am not alone in loving the community creativity that blankets the cities, towns, and neighborhoods throughout the United States. But did you ever wonder how that certain piece of art was chosen in the first place, and exactly who approves this art to be displayed? We sat down with Shelly Rios, the arts and cultural liaison with The City of Corpus Christi’s Public Art Program, to discuss the importance of their program and how it benefits the community.
In 1987, Corpus Christi became one of the first Texas cities to enact the “Percent of Art Program,” which incorporates art into the design of the city’s civic spaces and capital projects. Rios, being an artist herself, recognizes how important The City of Corpus Christi’s Art Program is, as its dedication to expanding opportunities around the Coastal Bend has helped to promote tourism and economic vitality within our city.
Rios said the program was developed so there could be some oversight of public funding for art. The idea came with the intention that the community, not just the administration, should have a say in the art that is curated for the public. This inclusion allows for diversity that represents the community as a whole.
When the city decides it has funds available for a piece of public art, they begin to look for an artist. With the help of a public panel that is selected by the program administration, they decide if the artist will be local, national, or international, then pick the artist that fulfills their requirements, and the parks director and arts and cultures commissions chair come together to choose a location for the piece of artwork. As of now, the city has exactly 80 pieces of public artwork, with another hopefully to be added within the next few years.
Corpus Christi’s very own Selena statue attracts tourists from all over the world to get pictures with the memorial, making it a source of community pride and putting our city in worldwide travel books. In addition to the Selena memorial on Shoreline, you can also find other iconic artwork around Corpus Christi, like the beautiful mermaid statue titled “Wind Dancer,” by H.W. Tatum Jr. (Although Rios recalls that some people in the community did not favor the nudity the statue portrayed.) Kent Ullberg’s monument titled “Leaping Marlin” can be seen as you enter South Padre Island, along with several bronze statues that are housed throughout parks there, and our public libraries are really great places to admire local artwork in Corpus Christi – start with La Retama Library, as several pieces can be found there. The last piece curated for the City of Corpus Christi was a dedication piece of mosaic artwork titled “Stay Together, Breathe” by Jeremiah Heye, at fire station #18 along Ayers St.
Rios is very passionate about her position and the role she plays in ensuring that our city’s public art is distributed fairly throughout the city, and that we are able to stay on top of the effort it takes to maintain the quality of the works.
“Public art is important to the community because it reflects what is going on in society, but most importantly, public art is like the paint colors in your house,” Rios says. “Yes, you can have the basic house, but to beautify it, to make it yours, to put your personality into it, that’s what public art is; it’s the soul of your area.”
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