Taylor Ross was hired last December by the Cultural Development Commission. Since that time, she has been working to realize the short-term action steps recommended to the city by public art consultants the Freeman Whitehurst Group. These include the creation of a communications system with artists for dissemination of information about opportunities and the formation of a visual artist database, including images of artists’ work. She has also been in ongoing discussions with the city in order to, for the first time, develop a comprehensive inventory of what public artworks are actually in the city.
Taylor Ross comes to this job after having worked in commercial galleries, representing such luminaries as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. She went to school at the University of Southern California, where she specialized in Greco-Roman antiquities. “So almost by default that gets you into architecture, sculpture and inspired public spaces,” she says.
In May, the Cultural Development Commission allocated $200,000 to help fund public art projects. “Everything I’m doing at the moment the commission has 100 percent funded,” Taylor Ross says. “I think the public art initiative is very fortunate to have that sort of commitment.”
First announced on July 23, the first public art call for proposals has just passed its deadline. Taylor Ross acknowledges that the turnaround time was quick. “Frankly, we all knew there were a lot of projects underway. The Master Plan [for the City of Indianapolis, released earlier this year] started a buzz about public art in the community and I would like to provide people with funding support to insure these projects go well.”
Nevertheless, the call for proposals went not just to local artists, but to national and international artists as well. “I really wanted this piece to be open to all of them,” Taylor Ross says, “because while I know we need to mentor and support our local talent, Indianapolis has a great history of engaging national and international talent and I don’t think we should let that go away. We live in a global society and Indianapolis needs to live in a global society, too.”
Taylor Ross has appointed a seven-member public art selection committee to adjudicate this and other public art proposal processes. “The commission empowered me to do that in the work plan they passed in May,” Taylor Ross explains. “That is a jury of qualified professionals, meaning local architects, curators, artists, graphic designers. People with a relevant skill set to public art. These aren’t ‘the right people,’ these are qualified people.”
When asked to explain this distinction, Taylor Ross says, “The language I’m using is language I’ve heard in the community. It seems to be a complaint and a question I’ve fielded quite a lot in my time here and that’s why I make that distinction. It shows a lot of leadership in the commission and shows that they have entrusted me and entrusted the Arts Council with some decision-making, where we can set up this separate body to make this sort of adjudication on these sorts of projects.”
The public art selection committee will review proposals Aug. 31 and recommend projects to be funded and amounts. “My goal is to show those to people in mid September,” Taylor Ross says.
All projects are to be completed by the end of 2006. But Taylor Ross doesn’t want this project to be a one-time enterprise. “It is my intention to go back to the commission at their budget hearing at the end of the year and ask them for an additional and, hopefully, larger allocation to do this again in 2005.”
The Cultural Development Commission has also allocated $70,000 in support of what Taylor Ross calls “the inaugural” Great Ideas Competition. Open only to artists residing in Indiana, this competition has two goals according to Taylor Ross: “One, it is to give our talent here an opportunity to throw their hat in the ring and be considered to undertake a public art project in the state’s capital. The second goal is to truly give Indianapolis a new set of legacy pieces. So it’s to benefit the artists but it’s also to benefit our residents and visitors.”
Proposed works may be permanent or temporary. Taylor Ross says she is encouraging artists to think in terms of temporary pieces and refers to the works of Christo and Jean Claude. “All of their projects happen for 14 days. They go up, they come down and they only exist in documentation and in the memories of the people who saw it. That is still a legacy.”
The competition is also open to creative people of all stripes, from writers and performance artists to urban planners and architects. “It’s about creativity, it’s not about your discipline,” Taylor Ross says.
Applicants should submit a resume, a letter explaining why they want to do a public art project and either 35mm slides or jpeg images of their work to the Arts Council by Oct. 8. Up to 10 applicants will be selected and provided with $1,000 each to prepare proposals. They will work with Taylor Ross to identify sites, develop concepts and engage the community. Then there will be a pubic viewing of proposals with feedback and a final adjudication. One or more projects will be funded for completion in spring or fall of 2005.
Taylor Ross recognizes that these projects are just the first steps on what should be a long road for the city. Ultimately, she believes that Indianapolis will have to establish a substantial fund for public art through some government structure like a percent for art ordinance, a private endowment or some combination of the two.
By way of perspective, a world-class sculpture was just installed in Chicago’s Millennium Park for a cost of $10 million. But Taylor Ross finds hope for our future ambitions in her study of Indianapolis’ past. In 1887, she says, the $600,000 that paid for the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was passed by legislation. “It was public money. You put that in a little super computer and $600,000 is the equivalent of about $12 million today. So our forefathers knew and were willing to allocate those resources toward the creation of major, iconic art for the city of Indianapolis.”
Taylor Ross looks out the window at the monument, the still point around which an entire city turns. “Our cultural assets aren’t an extra,” she says. “They’re a necessity.”