On Saturday, May 14th, about 20 people met at the Cordova branch of the public library to attend an UrbanArt Commission workshop titled "When Bad Things Happen to Good Projects." No, in spite of recent clashes with the City Council over everything from budgetary concerns to the personal aesthetics of certain council members, this wasn't a meeting to announce that the UAC would be closing its doors. "Bad Things," part of an ongoing series of UAC workshops, focused on Murphy's Law -- and how to beat it.
A pair of benches sculpted to resemble animals sit outside the Cordova library. Inside, there's a giant wooden storybook surrounded by painted sculptures of children and animals. According to the creator of these artworks, Memphis sculptor Pam Cobb, there were days when she wondered if her designs would ever see the light of day.
Cobb kept her audience on the edge of their seats with stories about expensive tools that spent more time in the repair shop than in the studio. She made them gasp as she spun terrifying yarns about how her wood supplier went bankrupt in the middle of her project and about crippling tendinitis that set in without warning, making it nearly impossible for her to use a chainsaw. But as problems arose, solutions were discovered, and Cobb praised the UAC for their flexibility and willingness to get scrappy in order to see the project completed.
"Things go wrong," says UAC executive director Carissa Hussong. "Schedules are always changing, and you're always having to work with people who don't care about your project. Lately, material prices have gone crazy, and it's important for artists to know that they aren't alone. That we can go to bat for them." The question is: Will a bad thing happen to the UAC?
"I think it's unwise to ever feel secure," Hussong says concerning the future of public art, in light of recent budget cuts. "I do think the City Council strongly supports us and other projects that enhance quality of life."
"When Bad Things Happen to Good Projects" is one in a series of workshops to help Memphis artists create public art. June's workshop will focus on the types of relationships that can exist in public-art projects, including subcontracting and collaborations.
"A lot of artists have come [to these events] and realized that they really can get public-art projects, that there are resources, tools, and other artists available to them," says Hussong. "But it's a constant struggle to get out there and network and to find and educate new artists."
Future workshops will address paperwork, community engagement, and creating public artworks outside the context of the UAC. Details about upcoming workshops can be found at UrbanArtCommission.org/calendar.html.