Culture Front: Public spaces fashioned for the people

By on May 27, 2014

An example of ‘Softwalks’ by Bland Hoke. PHOTO CRISTINA SILVA

Jackson Hole, WYO – “Placemaking” is a bit of a buzzword in the arts. Sometimes associated with Richard Florida’s 2004 powerhouse book, The Rise of the Creative Class, placemaking is a movement that begun in the 1970s led by architects and urban planners seeking to create communities centered around – imagine this! – people.

According to the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces, “Placemaking is a quiet movement that reimagines public spaces as the heart of every community, in every city. It’s a transformative approach that inspires people to create and improve their public places. Placemaking strengthens the connection between people and the places they share.”

Locally, initiatives like the Farmers Market and Chefs on the Square can be considered placemaking strategies. Jackson Hole Public Art is another. “We are a public art program with a placemaking soul,” said Carrie Geraci, JH Public Art director. Now, with JH Public Art welcoming Bland Hoke, Jr., as public artist in residence, public art can become an ever more vibrant part of Jackson’s evolution.

Hoke explained some changes other cities and towns are adopting. In particular, he cited a Project for Public Spaces initiative in New York City that has transformed Times Square from traffic mayhem to a pedestrian-friendly, economically thriving area.

Hoke recently completed an MFA in Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons New School of Design. A prolific public artist himself, one of Hoke’s projects was in response to the hundreds of miles of “sidewalk sheds” in Manhattan. Sidewalk sheds are those temporary structures that protect pedestrians from the construction site while allowing them to traverse the site safely. Hoke designed “softwalks,” a kit of parts for seats or counters that affix safely to the sheds, transforming them into places to sit and socialize. The art benefitted humans and local businesses.

In his role as public artist in residence, Hoke will attend to three main tasks. He will collaborate with public artists who are commissioned to do works in Jackson, acting as a sort of “extension” of the artist’s studio and as a local representative.

Secondly, Hoke will work to create educational opportunities for youth that result in public art projects. By implementing design-thinking workshops with youth and installing temporary public art projects as prototypes, he hopes to broaden everyone’s perspective on public art and how it contributes to placemaking.

Finally, Hoke and Geraci are working toward mutually beneficial projects in partnership with the town, in which placemaking concepts can be tested.

“It would be interesting to see if urban strategies for implementing change will work here,” Hoke said.

Hoke champions a “thinking through making” approach to placemaking in which temporary prototypes inform the process. He mentioned taking inspiration from small functional changes that have already been implemented in town, such as turning a parking space in front of Pearl Street Bagels into a place for bike racks. That’s a sort of prototype, Hoke said, that allows the community to evaluate its efficacy and perhaps implement elsewhere.

“At Jackson Hole Public Art, we embrace feedback and public participation,” Hoke said. “It’s like writing a draft of a paper, rather than blindly unveiling a finished product.”

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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