College Sophomore and Fairmount Park Art Association Marketing and Graphics Intern Lauren Robie explains how a tango dance party, a scavenger hunt and an audio app can bring us all a little closer to Philly’s impressive Public Art collection.
Street: What does the Fairmount Park Art Association do?
Lauren Robie: The association works with conserving, commissioning, and bringing awareness to public art in Philadelphia. It’s the nation’s first private, non-profit organization dedicated to integrating public art and urban planning.
Street: How would you define Public Art?
LR: Public art is accessible artwork that engages with its site and the community. What makes public art so special and rich is the absence of a formal museum environment, which makes people more comfortable interacting with the pieces.
Street: What are some projects that are in the works for the organization? Do you have a favorite?
LR: Currently, we are working on a number of public art visibility events coming this April. These include a tango dance party at Swann Memorial Fountain, a series of balloons that will mark the locations of outdoor sculptures along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the creation of a unique light interaction between members of the public and the Iroquois sculpture near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and finally, a bike tour and scavenger hunt of sculptures in Fairmount Park. By far, my favorite project associated with this organization is the Museum Without Walls: Audio program, released in June of 2010. The program, available for free by cell phone, smart phone app, and on the web, is a series of audio segments (about three minutes long) with speakers who have a personal connection to the featured sculpture. I, personally, have downloaded the Museum Without Walls audio application and learned a great deal about the sculptures. It is such a fulfilling experience to pass by an abstract sculpture daily and then find out the artist’s purpose and how it affected the people involved in its creation. Through this program, I have gained a deeper connection with Philadelphia and the many public artworks that enliven it.
Street: How did you get involved?
LR: Initially, I became involved with The Fairmount Park Art Association while looking for summer internships incorporating the arts. As an Art History and Visual Studies major, the organization seemed like a perfect fit. I get to promote art to the public by creating marketing materials for our events.
Street: What do you do?
LR: Within the organization, I generate marketing material, from posters to web advertisements. I volunteer for the events, talking with members of the public and helping them to “interpret” the works. I suppose my main goal is to help people look at something they haven’t considered before, and hopefully see something for themselves.
Street: What is your favorite piece of Public Art in Philly?
LR: One of my favorite public works is "Duck Girl" by Paul Manship, which sits in a fountain in Rittenhouse Square. I like this piece because it is creepy, this woman talking with an animal. It reminds me of Joseph Beuys’ How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, a performance piece where the artist literally discusses art—making with a deceased rabbit. Of course, contextually, these pieces are very different, but I suppose my art background makes that connection.
I also love the three—generational Calder sculptures that are aligned on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Fun fact: Ghost, the large Mobile hanging in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Logan Circle Fountain beyond the PMA’s staircase, and the sculpture of William Penn (atop City Hall) were all created by Calders. Because of the name of the mobile, the three sculptures have been called "the father, son and unholy ghost"—which I find clever and fascinating.
Street: Can more Penn students get involved with the organization? How?
LR: Yes, definitely! Every Penn student is invited to all of the FPAA’s events, including the Annual Meeting in May and the Public Art Awareness events, which happen in April. There are internships (graduate and undergraduate) offered every semester as well.
For more information, please visit us at the Fairmount Park Art Association's web page: http://www.fpaa.org, the Museum Without Walls: Audio web page: http://www.museumwithoutwallsaudio.org, or friend the FPAA on facebook!