The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium "ART/CITY" on March 16, 2012. Participants have been invited to respond to the prompt “in relation to the arts and civic life, the question I am wrestling with right now is…” in advance of the event. This guest posting is by JD Beltran, President of the San Francisco Arts Commission.
In relation to the arts and civic life, the question I am wrestling with right now is the question that I’ve always struggled with, as an artist, a public artist, and a public art administrator: how do we convey the necessity and essentiality of the arts in our culture? I think that one thing that is particularly common, at least from what I’ve seen in our culture, is that many people feel they don’t understand art – they’re even afraid of talking about it. It always surprises me how when I start to talk about an artwork with someone who’s not in art circles, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is “well, I don’t know much about art..” But then they proceed to have an opinion about it. So everyone has an opinion about art but they’re afraid to say they really know something about it, which I find really fascinating. I think it comes from a lot of people being frustrated that they don’t understand art. And with public art, this becomes an even bigger issue. People in the art world or art circles will go to galleries or museums, but the general public doesn’t do that unless they’re interested in art – yet they’ll happen upon public art in their daily lives. So I think that public art has a greater role and responsibility in educating people about art – to either create a dialogue about the art itself, about an artist’s practice, about creating meaning or experience through art and its universality, and/or how art reflects history, among other things. In that sense, it’s truly exciting to be part of the San Francisco Arts Commission because I believe that is one of our most important missions – to expose the public as well as people beyond our city to great art, and all that that brings.