Mayor Stewart: Public Art is Vital to a City

The artist Georgia O’Keeffe said it best, “Filling a space in a beautiful way – that is what art means to me.”

Recently, we unveiled the first of 25 bee sculptures that are part of a public art project known as Bees Across New Britain. The six foot bee sculptures are the same shape – the maquette designed by New Britain resident and sculptor Craig Frederick – but are painted in a wide variety of designs.

The public art project is sponsored jointly by the City and the Greater New Britain Arts Alliance. For the resident who messaged me to say, “This art around town is stupid and a waste of money,” I submit to you the following from Americans for the Arts organization on how public art impacts communities:

•    Economic Growth and Sustainability. By engaging in public art as a tool for growth and sustainability, communities can thrive economically. Seventy percent of Americans believe that the “arts improve the image and identity” of their community.

•    Attachment and Cultural Identity. Public art directly influences how people see and connect with a place, providing access to aesthetics that support its identity and making residents feel appreciated and valued. Aesthetics is one of the top three characteristics why residents attach themselves to a community.

•    Artists as Contributors. Providing a public art ecosystem supports artists and other creatives by validating them as important contributors to the community. Artists are highly entrepreneurial. They are 3.5 times more likely than the total U.S. work force to be self-employed.

•    Social Cohesion and Cultural Understanding. Public art provides a visual mechanism for understanding other cultures and perspectives, reinforcing social connectivity with others. Seventy-three percent of Americans agree that the arts “help me understand other cultures better.”

•    Public Health and Belonging. Public art addresses public health and personal illness by reducing stress, providing a sense of belonging, and addressing stigmas towards those with mental health issues. Public art is noted as slowing pedestrians down to enjoy their space and providing a positive impact on mood.

To the resident who proclaimed, “This obsession with bees needs to stop.”

It’s not an obsession with bees; it’s the story of our city. “Industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey” is our City motto that’s inscribed on our City seal. That Latin phrase has been our guiding light since the City was established in 1871. The beehive is an ode to our working class history, our blue-collar roots and as such is a fitting theme for our Bees Across New Britain project.

There is a balance in how we focus our City efforts, including money. I’m happy to say this public art project is paid for by donations from companies and organizations around New Britain which donated a pretty penny. Many bees will be auctioned off with the proceeds to go to the Greater New Britain Arts Alliance. Therefore, the taxpayer who suggested to me that I , “Stop wasting our money on stupid things and pave our roads,” I can tell you we are spending your tax dollars on paving to the tune of $2 million.

That annual paving program consists of three things; filling potholes, complete milling and paving of identified roads, and crack sealing. That may seem like a lot of money, but to put that into perspective, it is going to cost us $800,000 alone to completely mill and pave Farmington Avenue.

Brightening our City and making it more successful will happen when we are improving all areas, not just one. I have the interest of our citizens at the forefront, and always the interest of our citizens at the front line of every project application. These are tough times, and while our surrounding towns have cut back on everything, we are finding innovative ways to keep pushing forward, and that is something to be proud of, that’s what good leadership is all about.

I agree with Georgia O’Keeffe, “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”

Erin Stewart is the mayor of New Britain.

This article originally appeared in the New Britain Herald on June 1, 2019.