The city of Jackson took a significant step forward last week when City Human and Cultural Services Director Michael Raff announced a public-art initiative. Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. has committed 1 percent of all eligible capital-improvement funds for public art displays around the city, and the administration is seeking community members to get involved.
In a time when most public bodies are cutting arts and humanities budgets, it's encouraging to see the city placing a priority on attracting the creative class to the city. Making public arts a priority seems like a no-brainer, but it's often a program that gets pushed aside while huge developments and expensive public-works projects are advanced as economic-development panaceas. But an interesting city that prides itself on culture is a draw for developers when they want to purchase property and invest in a community. It is also a draw for young professionals and creatives who are the future of a thriving city.
The program's success, however, depends on the community's involvement. The first project requires volunteers to paint 340 traffic-control boxes around the city. This is Jackson's chance to put our words into action to create a blueprint of the future. City government might be pushing the idea, but it will fall flat without the public's participation.
The initiative is modeled after Seattle's public-arts program—and while Jackson may not have the same amount of funds and resources as Seattle, we have a vast pool of talented artists and visionary leaders. Seattle's program started in 1973, and the city now has thousands of public art works to show for its commitment.
We encourage Johnson and City Council members to pass a public-arts ordinance that can stand on its own through future administrations and as an official commitment of basic funding. We call on artists, business leaders and all citizens to contribute their ideas and creativity to the initiative so that Jackson can become a cultural destination and positive example of forward thinking in Mississippi.
But don't wait for elected officials to push public art. The Jackson Free Press is going to show visual support of this idea by placing refurbished metal newspaper boxes in several spots around the city, but with a twist: Local artists have put their own spin on them. (See one outside Cups Fondren, painted by daniel johnson, right now.) We encourage others to engage in public art in whatever way possible (Figment Jackson on May 14-15 at the old Cola plant is a great way to inspire and be inspired; see http://jackson.figmentproject.org for details).