|John Joyce has headed a beautification committee in Portsmouth for several years. Here, he kneels next to a bronze toad outside the Children's Museum of Virginia on Aug. 1, 2013. (Hyunsoo Leo Kim | The Virginian-Pilot)|
A commentary from the Virginian-Pilot
August 11, 2013
ART CONFINED to a museum speaks to a select few; public art speaks to everyone. That critical difference says volumes about a place.
Public art articulates a city’s priorities, its values, its vision for itself. And while beauty will always be in the eyes of the beholder, the mere effort to beautify stands as evidence of a community’s intellectual and aesthetic ambitions.
That’s why great cities don’t build courthouses or city halls that look like strip malls: Public architecture says something about what a place finds important.
So, indeed, does public art.
The Pilot’s Janie Bryant recently detailed new efforts to bring art to Portsmouth’s streets. In a place struggling with pockets of endemic poverty, with constant fiscal difficulties, with a huge infrastructure backlog, art may seem like a low priority for Portsmouth .
But the Supporters of Portsmouth Public Art have recognized that the mere effort to make the city more beautiful is an example of the kind of civic engagement that helps every place it happens. Because that kind of citizen involvement underlies every effort to move a community forward.
The group was born with the desire to save a bronze toad, which won hearts at a city sculpture competition. The group raised $8,000 to keep the outsized critter in Portsmouth.
Naysayers look at the metal amphibian near the Children’s Museum of Virginia and see squandered money and energy that could’ve been spent on other things.
Children see a nose to rub for luck.
All the thousands of people who believe in Portsmouth, who believe in what’s possible through hard work and hope, will see the city grow a little brighter as each hand passes over the toad’s nose, as each person finds delight in another unexpected mural, in every surprise sculpture.
Portsmouth’s future lies with them.