YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Ventura County Perspective

Defining a City's Identity

Whether created by local artists or outsiders, the best public artworks provide inspiration and civic pride.

September 21, 1997|JENNIFER EASTON | Jennifer Easton is former public art coordinator for the city of Ventura

The Eiffel Tower, the St. Louis Arch, the Brooklyn and Golden Gate bridges, even Ventura City Hall.

These are works of governments that recognized their responsibility to create an inspiring environment for their citizens and a legacy for future generations, proof that people thought enough of their cities to build them something truly special.

Great cities earn their reputations for many things: beauty, economic opportunities, transportation systems, safe neighborhoods and even, possibly, smooth streets. But the most lasting memory for residents and visitors alike is the visual environment of a place--how the parts fit together to create a unique whole.

From ancient Greece and Rome to our own WPA and CETA programs, an important element of that visual environment has been art in public places. These often-powerful artworks provide meaningful enhancements to and interpretations of the world around us. For the arts to be fully expressive and functional within our society, they must be supported by a multitude of sources, including the public sector.

In Ventura County, a number of cities have worked to establish public art programs. Public art, by its unique processes, gives us the ability to express and reflect upon who we are as a city and a community. It coalesces the ideals of artists, other community members and government.

Support of public art is a definitive statement of self-expression by a community. It demonstrates a community's involvement, that it is actively examining itself and creating a continually evolving image.

And much as with supporting libraries, encouraging the arts demonstrates a belief in the value of learning and the exchange of ideas. Although each citizen may not appreciate every work created by every artist, what matters most is a community's recognition that the expression of artists' ideas is intrinsic to a civilized society.

Public art examines our diversity and our common ground; art becomes connected to our culture.

Public art also provides an opportunity for all citizens to have a meaningful role in public life and in the enhancement of a city's public spaces through their participation in the public art advisory process.


During the discussions regarding the proposed Wyland mural on the California Street offramp, much was made of the issue of local versus nonlocal artists, and which provides the "best" voice for a community. The answer is never that simple.

Local artists provide a unique view of a city. They have chosen to be a part of our community because they have found something here that inspires their artistic voice. From this we are able to learn much.

Yet nonlocal artists potentially provide an interesting mirror on how a city projects itself. They also can infuse new ideas and, more importantly, take a piece of our city with them when they leave. This exchange of ideas repels balkanization and expands consideration for a place to help keep it from becoming a stereotype of itself (one of the dangers in becoming a tourist town).

Both voices are vital to establishing who we are and what we represent as a community. The most successful public art carefully considers the site and its surroundings, both tangible and intangible. It is, in the truest sense, site specific.

The mural debate has created an awareness for public art that is fundamental to its success. Government is about process and equal access--from the election of our officials to the selection of our artists. Public art sponsored by the government must always remain public.

Los Angeles Times Articles