It had been three long years. Three years since I had taken a trip alone. I relish the time alone or with girlfriends, where I can find space to be me. Not wife or mom or volunteer or housekeeper. A space that loosens the roles I play and most often love. Yet when I get away from the daily grind, it frees me to think more clearly.
So it was with great anticipation that I was finally able to visit my friend in Seattle, along with my college roommate. My friend was extremely gracious as she drove us all over Seattle, giving us the overview of the many areas and attractions Seattle has to offer. What is there not to love about Seattle? There’s the water, the mountains, the hills and the cultural opportunities. But one of the most fascinating parts of the city was not seeing Mt. Rainer or the Space Needle or Pike Place Market, although they each hold their own fascination for me. The most alluring aspect was the public art in various neighborhoods. It was like the cherry on top of an already scrumptious dessert.
One percent of taxes go to funding public art in Seattle. I wonder what sort of outcry there might be if the city where I live were to incorporate such a tax. Yet, I can’t help but think what public art has done for Seattle or other cities like Chicago. Take “Cloud Gate,” for instance. When we go to Chicago, it’s almost mandatory that we stop at Millenium Park to play around the sculpture we fondly call, “the bean.” We never get sick of it. Nor do we tire of the “Brick Head” near our home in downtown Indianapolis. When you walk close to “Brick Head,” you can hear slight hammering sounds and clinking, as if there is a brain churning inside, hard at work.
My children identify with the art they see on the streets. It gives us a sense of pride in our city and a sense of belonging. This is our “Brick Head” or our “bean.” Happening upon public art is a little like finding a treasure in a worldwide treasure hunt. It’s often unexpected but when we stop to gander at, let’s say, the enormous troll under the bridge in a Seattle neighborhood, we slow down long enough to ask questions, to wonder, or maybe just stare in solitude for a bit. Something of which we can all use more.
I have to admit that I would be hard-pressed to welcome a new tax on the citizens of this city in this economy, especially with an unemployment rate over 9 percent. But I can dream – and hope. In a city like ours when we can’t tout mountain ranges, rolling hills, seas or even large lakes, Indianapolis residents have found pride in the offerings so many have come to associate with us: the Indianapolis 500, the sports venues for the Colts and Pacers, and the world famous Children’s Museum. But I can’t help but imagine what it would be like to be known for more than our sports teams, a place where our public art serves as a catalyst for communities to be strengthened, identity to be deepened and where our visitors can find surprises – or treasures – around each corner.
Photos: top to bottom
Brick Head, Indianapolis
Cloud Gate, Chicago