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Parking Garages as Public Art

Posted: February 15, 2017 at 12:23 pm by , in Breaking News, Featured, Morning Magazine

Most of us don’t think of “art” when we think of parking garages. They are typically functional structures where you drop your car and quickly exit to get to your next destination. That’s especially true in downtown Boulder where most visitors park their vehicles inside one of five concrete parking garages before heading to the Pearl Street Mall. But all that could change with the city’s plan to transform the garages from boring to beautiful.

Currently there are some nice looking parking garages in cities like Santa Monica, Miami, Kansas City and elsewhere that include colorful lighting, murals and art installations. Some even have rooftop restaurants and lush vines that cover the walls.

Mandy Vink, the City of Boulder’s Public Art Coordinator says that in Eugene, Oregon a program called “Park Your Art Here” was popular along with poetry in the parking garages.

“There are other places around the nation where introducing art into the parking garages made them feel like a safer environment and it makes us think about what we could do with literature, poetry, performance pieces and also treatment to the existing infrastructure,” said Vink.

The public art project is part of the larger Community Cultural Plan that began after voters approved a short-term tax increase in 2014 to benefit the arts and safety projects. The 27-million dollars raised from the 0.3 percent sales tax is funding a variety of capital projects in the Civic Area, along the Boulder Creek Path and on University Hill.

“As of right now we’re drafting the public art implementation project that includes about 10 projects in different areas of the city,” said Vink. “That could include underpasses, or the Civic Area or north Boulder and we’re eager to do a variety of types of commissions and drive home the fact that Boulder is a creative city and when people come here they want to see that.”

Some Boulderites don’t think that beautify parking garages is a great use of money. One letter writer to the Boulder Daily Camera said, “Shame on Boulder for not spending the money on needy families.” Another said, “Get real – no one is going to linger in an environment that is known for exhaust fumes.” Those comments led Boulder’s Executive Director of Open Studio’s Cindy Sepucha to pen her own letter. She believes public art drives economic vitality and improves quality of life.

“I think public art is good because it is in the public realm and increases access and participation regardless of income,” said Sepucha. “That’s important because art is fundamental to the human experience and provides bridges between cultures, enhances community development, attracts new businesses, draws tourist dollars, attracts new workers and all other good things to the community.”

A parking garage in Santa Monica California which has been turned into a public art project.

In a recent report the National Endowment for the Arts ranked Boulder third out of 367 metropolitan areas across the nation for artists per capita, behind only Santa Fe and Los Angeles.

Vink is hoping funding for public art in 2017 is only the beginning. She says the initial $50,000 in funding will come from Boulder’s CAGID – the Central Area Parking Improvement District and will be spent on a study, site preparation, hiring and paying artists, materials and unnamed other costs.

The city is looking for community feedback about which projects are a priority and where they should be located. For more information go to boulderarts.org.