Monday, December 20, 2010

Community Art

My favorite snowman of all the snowmen on parade was inspired by my favorite expressionist and one of my favorite artists.

Expressionism was given a distinctly local flare with images of New England style churches, homes, and covered bridges, which are a particularly valued part of New Hampshire heritage.

This past weekend, I visited North Conway, New Hampshire with my family and was pleasantly greeted by the community's Snow People on Parade. We saw snowmen sculptures near our hotel, near local shops and restaurants. We found ourselves seeking them wherever we went, hoping to get pictures in front of them all. The snowmen added to the festive feel of the area.

This small tourist center nestled in the heart of the White Mountains was made for Christmas. Snowcapped peaks helped us dream of a white Christmas that contrasted greatly with the brown we still have over much of New Hampshire. The art of the snowman is a clever way to emphasize this community's strengths while supporting the local creative economy. The town benefits from the beauty and charm of the winter artwork and the promotion of local identity as a winter destination. While visitors tend to flock toward the area in the summer for its shopping and outdoor activities, winter is usually reserved for the skiers who stay at the nearby mountain resorts. The presence of the snowmen adds a new dimension to my feelings about the place and will encourage me to return during this sleepy time of year.

The snowmen reminded me of a public art display that I saw in Washington D.C. many years ago. In 2002, the city commissioned 100 elephants and 100 donkeys from local artists to display for public enjoyment. It was exciting when my husband and I found new sculptures and it filled me with pride to see my country displaying a piece of its identity in a lighthearted way.

When I mentioned the snowmen on the phone to my mother, she told me about another public art event down her way in Florida. Bradenton holds a bi-annual Geckofest where local artists create their impressions of the adorable local creature that can be found throughout the region. Gecko art is displayed in local buildings and then auctioned off to raise money for county art organizations.

Public art exhibits like these raise awareness of cultural identity and celebrate community pride. They can serve to highlight a particular aspect of a community that one wishes to promote. Public art exhibits can be a valuable outreach tool and increase interest in local art and heritage. Cultural institutions may want to consider collaborating with area artists to create unique displays that will benefit their own organization, their community, and their visitors.

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