Why do we need public art? | Nancy Ann Coyne | TEDxBratislava

Why do we need public art? | Nancy Ann Coyne | TEDxBratislava


Translator: Katarina Vlkova
Reviewer: Zuzana Šplhová So it’s really a pleasure to be here, and thanks so much
to the TEDx team for the invitation. I am a photographer and a public artist, and I grew up right outside New York City. And I was fascinated by all the different stories
that New Yorkers had, the people that lived in New York. And as a young person, I was fascinated by the opportunity
of potention photography, really being able to tell the stories
of communities and individuals – sometimes untold stories. And also, as I became a photographer, I really became interested
in that kind of magic of the relationship. So, I moved to Europe in the mid 80s, and I was based out of Vienna, Austria as a photojournalist
and editorial photographer, and in 1990, I was invited by the government
of the then Soviet Republic of Georgia to be an artist in residence. And a year later,
the people that invited me, they headed up the opposition army and staged a Coup d’état against Gamsakhurdia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was the first elected president of the Republic of Georgia since 1922. This is a shot from the inside
of the opposition headquarters where I was embedded with the army. This is a soldier firing
onto the parliament, where Gamsakhurdia was headquartered, and they finally ousted them
after two weeks. So, I’m very interested
in what happens to people, both politically and socially, where they live
but also in other countries. And in Vienna, I became
really interested in the 80s about people who had survived
Nazi persecution and had come back to Vienna, where they’d been
thrown out of their homes, and reestablished their homes
on the place of their former persecution. This is Antonia Lehr. She survived Auschwitz. This is Franz Burda. He was in the resistance. So at the end of the 90s, I’d been photographing
for about 15 years professionally, and I started thinking about
what is the impact of my photographs on both the people that I’m working with, on the audiences … And with so much imagery
at the end of the 90s – television, video, web, photography, advertising – what impact was I really making? So I started rethinking
documentary photography and how I could potentially work it to a new form. And I started to become
really interested in public places, and places that in effect
only had maybe one usage, but I was really interested
in what went on in these places and how one could use them for storytelling and telling
about communities and telling about individual stories. So based on the project
that I’d worked on in Vienna – these are collected photographs
from survivors of Nazi persecution – I created a project in this archive, where using documentary photographs,
the images would project into the space. And you as the viewer,
you as the audience, history would be projected back onto you. In some ways, to question you: What’s your role going to be in history? I was also just really interested
in the people that worked in these spaces. And I was really interested
in how do you deepen their experience of what they’re doing in these places. So, public art here becomes a question: Why do we need it? Well, most of you have
probably been to an art gallery before. And you know the experience
of going into this white cubicle and seeing work. It’s a space of collectors, where artists want to show, where art is bought. And you might know this experience,
which is the museum gallery. This, in fact, is the Museum
of Modern Art in New York City. It’s the Monet, Water Lillies room, and in some way, galleries have even become
these spaces of “mediated experiences.” You’ve a gentleman who is sitting there
photographing the artwork, opposed to being there
and experiencing it. And then you have
the Museum of Modern Art, which is a public institution – in part … It costs 25 dollars admission to get into the Museum
of Modern Art in New York City. So, these were the kind of experiences
that we know about viewing art. So I think it is incredibly important that we have this other kind of way of engaging and experiencing artwork too. This is a project that I did. But first I want to tell you where I live. I live now in Minnesota. And as you can see, Minnesota … is quite northern. In fact it’s right next to Canada, and it does one thing a lot. It does a lot of things,
but it does one thing particularly well. (Laughter) It snows in Minnesota. (Laughter) It snows six months in Minnesota! (Laughter) So, the municipality in the early 60s was interested in bringing people
to the downtown and providing for them
a climate controlled space that they could shop in, that they, in the downtown zone, that they would be able to walk
and commute to work, and the series of what’s known
as “skyway bridges” was built in Minneapolis. I live in the Twin Cities,
which is Minneapolis and St. Paul. Now, Minneapolis, the skyway system today
has eight miles of bridges, connecting 80 city blocks, that are over 80 blocks. And they’re privately owned. Today this is what one of them looks like, and what, if you were in Minneapolis,
you might be experiencing. And they connect buildings,
as I mentioned, where people shop, have coffee. [inaudible] So, this is one very specific
characteristic of Minneapolis because in Minneapolis,
there is the largest skyway system in the United States. Now there’s another interesting
characteristic, also, that Minnesota has, besides for snow, besides for skyways, and that’s that some people,
like myself, who go there. And there are people
from all over the world that have ended up
in these really cold places that has the temperature
basically the same as Siberia. (Laughter) So, I thought it was
incredibly interesting that there are more than
120 languages spoken in Minnesota. So, in 2005, I negotiated with the city to start a project
about immigrants in Minnesota. We have the largest Somali population, in Minnesota, in the United States. We have the largest Hmong population, that’s an ethnic group from Laos. And we have the second largest
Tibetan population. So I thought, How could I give voice
to immigrants’ experiences and what would be a good place? Well, why not the skyway? So, from the outside – this is what it looked like at night,
this was in 2008 – when you were walking through,
you would look through the photographs, and you could literally see the city through the eyes of the people
who I worked with – I worked with 23 different people
from 23 different countries; I interviewed them about their life: What does it mean?
What does home mean to them? What kind of struggles have they had? And also, What does the word
“home” mean to them? From the outside, this concept behind the project is in the United States,
we are all immigrants except if we’re Native American
or African American. And so it really was also
about building tolerance to think about what’s our shared history as Americans
or living in the United States. First generation, fifth generation, etc. This is the experience from the inside. The photographs were
three meters by four meters. And you can see towards you,
on the left hand side, there is a word for home. And that’s actually in Farsi, Persian. So, out of this project, it was the end of 2008, a bad economy started
in the United States, and we brought it everywhere else, and … (Laughter) I decided in 2009 to begin a major project
in a bad economy in St. Paul, using four skyways and working with 58 people. These are some of the spaces
that I’m using in St. Paul. Now, St. Paul has the largest
publicly owned skyway system, owned by the city, in the world. Largest publicly owned skyway system. It connects five miles and 30 city blocks. Now here’s something. If you’re interested
in doing this kind of work, one thing that’s really
important to know about is good … bureaucracy … takes … time. (Laughter) So, I want to give you an example, on completing this project
now in St. Paul. I want to give you an example
of a bit about the process. Six years to negotiate the permit. Eight different city and building entities
to approve use of the site. Two years to create the artwork. 35 funders, 28 team members, 15 advisors, and … One public hearing yet to come … (Laughter) At least once. So, you think, Why do you do this? And I work with multiple stakeholders, I have to have the municipality
give me a permit, and I have to work with funders
and stakeholders, audiences, the people, who work with me – What’s going to be
the return on investment? And how am I going to impact
the community that I’m working with? Well, based on the Minneapolis
project that you saw, we hired an independent consultancy firm to do an objective
evaluation on the project. What was the impact? Here’s some of the questions,
and here’s some of the results. Question: “How well do you think the project increases awareness
of diversity in our community?” The majority found it excellent. “Does the project increase awareness about immigrants in Minnesota,
and their needs?” Again, excellent. “Was the project a good demonstration of the role and effect
of art in public places?” Excellent. And no, we didn’t bribe
anyone to say “excellent.” Just gave them some coffee,
reward cards … (Laughter) No, we didn’t do that. So. It was 1991 … (Laughter) (Applause) and I embarked to the Republic of Georgia via the Bratislava train station, where I took a train to Moscow
and then from there I flew to Tbilisi. Look familiar? (Laughter) So, I have now a question. I want to see the hands of all of you who’ve come through
that train station today to come to the TEDx. Hands? Any hands? Who was in the train station last week? Over the last month? How many people? Aah! It’s an important train station, isn’t it? (Laughter) Oh, it’s a central train station! That’s right. (Laughter) (Applause) So, just think for a second. What would be your story? And what could be told
in this space about Slovakia or the people that come
through the station, like yourselves? What would it look like? And what would your idea be? How could this space be transformed? So, the next time you take a train and you go to the station, think about it. How would you like the station
to look and feel? And what would be the story
that should be told there? So, thank you very much. It’s really been great being here,
and I also really invite you, next time you are at the station,
to think about it. Thanks! (Applause)

5 thoughts on “Why do we need public art? | Nancy Ann Coyne | TEDxBratislava”

  1. Interesting talking points, but extremely poor energy by the presenter.  Very hard to stay tuned. Usually TEDx presenters are actually good at presenting

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