A Sense of Place

Art in Public Places program launches unprecedented call

Images of celebrated public art line the walls of newly appointed New Mexico Arts’

project coordinator Michelle Laflamme-Childs’ office—pieces like Chicago’s “Cloud Gate,” Orange County’s naughty “Bad Dog” and now-gone “Fridgehenge” by local Adam Jonas Horowitz. They serve as an inspiration board of sorts for the program’s biggest purchasing initiative—wherein New Mexico-based or gallery-represented artists, as well as those is the state’s immediate periphery, can submit via an open call and take a stab at achieving Koons status.

Since the inception of Art in Public Places in 1986, and aided by 1% For Art legislation, the program has acquired and placed more than 3,000 artworks in public spaces and buildings in all 33 New Mexico counties.

“It was pretty incredible to walk into a program like this and not really have known—even working in the arts for seven years—that this existed,” Santa Fe Art Institute veteran Laflamme-Childs says about the first month at her new job.

Proposals can be

through Sept. 23. After that, selected works ranging in price between $1,000 to $40,000 will be purchased and commissioned. The initiative’s entire budget for this call, Laflamme-Childs says, is anywhere from $500,000 to a cool million.

With the firm intent to “diversify the state’s public art collection,” the call is open to media in all genres for both exterior and interior display. Laflamme-Childs expands on the criteria: “They just have to be suitable for public consumption and durable.”

“Art is not just pretty, it’s inspiring,” Laflamme-Childs muses when asked about the importance of programs like hers. “Art makes our public places interesting to be in. In a city like Santa Fe and a state like New Mexico, culture is such an important part of who we are and what our identity is here, that having that be forefront in people’s mind is important.”

Besides the aesthetic, public art, the coordinator explains, not only forms part of a landscape, but also people’s idiosyncrasies.

“Public Art is fundamentally democratic. It is owned by all of us, and in places we can go view it for free pretty much whenever we want,” she says. “It is in public spaces—places we walk by or pass through or see in our everyday lives. It gives us (and visitors to our communities) a connection to the place and a sense of what that place is about.”

As for the pieces of New Mexico Arts’ permanent collection—some examples of which can be seen lining the white marble halls of  its Bataan Memorial Building headquarters—leave your Southwest landscape expectations at the brass, Zia-handled door.

Those works, Laflamme-Childs says, “Are just a little more cutting edge or out there than organizations will tend to buy on their own. The works are then available to be temporarily loaned to libraries, firehouses, state buildings and the like, without causing higher ups at the organizations to be perceived as the ones who “bought that one weird piece.”

The program as a whole, it turns out, is a win-win situation. “In some cases, there’s an artist on the edge of making it big, or an artist that’s really looking for that next jump. So for them to be able to say, ‘I have work in the permanent collection of the State of New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs’ is super cool.”

So far, the current call for artists has yielded 55 entries that are “all over the map.”

Laflamme-Childs is hopeful that the venture will pay off for the state.

“New Mexico is a state steeped in culture and art and craft of all kind,” she says. “To really know who we are as a people—the people that moved here like me, and the people who have lived here all along—art is an incredibly interesting way to get some insight into the community and the lives of the people who are in this state.”

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