In this new Macalester class, students learn to weave art into the community.

Spring semester brought a dozen or so Mac students to a new departmental offering, a class on public art—those murals, statues, fountains, pathways, and other objects designed to fulfill a civic as well as aesthetic function in society. In creating them, artists find themselves working with architects, landscape architects, politicians, community members—a whole range of others with a stake in the outcome.

Stan Sears in the classroomTaught by art professor and sculptor Stan Sears—who as half of Myklebust + Sears studio has himself created many objects of public art—this course attracted a wide range of students. “Public art is closely related to environmental studies, urban geography, urban studies,” says Sears. “It’s everything from graffiti to architecturally integrated public art like murals. I hope they see it as a broad and interesting field.”

Indeed the students did find the new course fascinating, and certainly challenging. Their first project involved making tiny dioramas to integrate into the campus landscape. Students planted their creations in various spots, including two drawers in an art studio, a tree, and—in the case of a tiny Paul Bunyan and his ax plus whiskey bottle—tucked into a downspout on the front of Old Main.

This last project was the creation of Ariel Estrella ’15 (New York City), who, as a veteran New York street artist, was thrilled to find a course in public art at Macalester. The women’s and gender studies major describes the class as “half history of public art, half studio time,” and was surprised “how much of an introspective exploration of myself” she’d done in the course.

The key element to the course’s success, says Ariel Estrella ’15, was having it taught by a professor who is himself a working public artist. 

Later projects had the class proposing public art-style methods of linking Grand Avenue with newly removed Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, researching public artists, and building a piece—capable of being folded or somehow disassembled—for installation at the Myklebust+Sears Lake Pepin area farm/studio outside Stockholm, Wisconsin.

Mixed in with assignments, discussions, and readings were numerous field trips and guest speakers including a public artist, an architectural historian, and the executive director of St. Paul nonprofit Forecast Public Art.

But perhaps the key element to the course’s success, says Estrella, was having it taught by a professor who is himself a working public artist.  Sears, along with his wife and partner, Andrea Myklebust, has created art designed for public spaces across the country, including a plaza with fountain and sculptures in Madison, Wis., and a water feature and stone path in Charlotte, N.C. “It’s interesting working with Stan because you get to hear about the processes behind the scenes with public art,” says Estrella. “You get to learn how hard and how wonderful it is to get your work out—and what an amazing experience it is.”

Video edited by Kalie Caetano ’13 and shot by Kyle Rosenberg ’13.

July 2 2012

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