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Don't Fence Me Out

I've haven't had the time to get out of the studio for some art viewing lately, but I have been keeping track of events. Here in Baltimore we're having a debate turned shouting and spitting match over an art collaboration between the Walters Art Museum and students from Professor George Ciscle's exhibition development seminar at the Maryland Institute. What started as a simple collaborative public art project, if there is such a thing, has turned into a heated debate over the public's right to the park, outrage over an unsightly-looking fence, whose paying for this, and even a public safety issue. The safety issue may be from the dog pooh left in plastic bags on the fence -- yuk.

Beyond the Compass, Beyond the Square is an exhibit which is intended to bring attention to Mt. Vernon park, in collaboration with the Walter's current exhibit Maps: Finding Our Place in the World. The park, a designated National Landmark, is part of the neighborhood that surrounds the Museum. The controversy is over a tall, gold spray-painted chain link fence that surrounds each of the four public park squares radiating out from its centerpiece, the city's symbol and the country's first monument to George Washington. The monument itself had a controversial beginning, with complaints over its cost and fears that it would collapse, crushing the neighborhood. The fence is student artist Lee Freeman's contribution and will be removed on March 29th, allowing the public to access the park and view the work of nine other artists, whose interactive works will be set up throughout the four park squares.

The following concern was expressed to me by e-mail from George Ciscle:
We hope at some point everyone realizes this is only one artwork, not one exhibit of only one artist. Our fear is that once the other nine artists' works are installed in time for the March 29 opening/community celebration that the context of what has transpired will be lost in sacrifice to the exhibit as a whole.
I don't think it will. If anything the attention will draw more curious visitors to the site; it's turned into a perfect hands-on learning experience. Nothing grabs attention more than a public art project, especially when spring flowers are beginning to sprout and dog walkers want access to the park. I'll follow the progress of the collaboration and look forward to seeing the rest of the artwork. Sun article here.

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