From murals to bike racks, Laramie has developed a vibrant public art scene, especially throughout the downtown area. Now, the University of Wyoming seeks to do the same on campus by developing a plan for supporting and acquiring public art.
“It’s been a long time coming,” UW Art Professor Ricki Klages said. “But this is not an uncommon thing and most universities have some form of acquisitional plan in place for donated artwork and things like that and so, really, it was just becoming clear that there was no process in place.”
The President’s Public Art Committee was established by then-President Tom Buchanan in 2013. It was tasked with bringing order to the disorganized and unpredictable way public works of art were installed on campus — a process some at UW said led to misunderstandings.
The committee is responsible for setting direct guidelines for accepting campus art, Klages said.
“In my world as an artist, you enter your work for a jurying process, then the juror picks and selects the work that they want to include in an exhibition,” she said. “This is kind of normal.”
The campus art plan now in the works will further formalize that process, said Klages, who chairs the public art committee.
“That’s what we never had before,” she said. “It was just these weird, oddball things that would kind of show up and there was no vetting and there was also no opportunity for people to be involved in the entire process of selection.”
One such piece was “Carbon Sink” — a 36-foot swirl of beetle-kill logs over lumps of coal installed in 2011 — which was removed after the university administration was pressured to do so by energy industry officials.
Klages said the “Carbon Sink” incident highlighted the need for better communication surrounding public art on campus and led to the creation of the committee she now chairs.
“It was never meant to be a permanent piece,” Klages said. “It was always meant to be here for at least a year and then it would slowly degrade and be removed … It was removed before its time because of pushback from the Legislature. This committee was formed to create, I think, more awareness and dialogue about what is public art and what is its purpose.”
The committee is now working to develop a campus art plan, with help from public art consultants Renee Piechocki and Jennifer McGregor, who were instrumental in developing the Laramie Public Art Plan approved by the Laramie City Council in 2015.
Klages said the out-of-state consultants made a preliminary visit to UW in September, during which they surveyed art on campus.
“I took them into the Classroom Building and they were blown away by the murals on the wall — those one-by-one inch tile murals that were commissioned as part of the design of the building,” Klages said. “Through the lens of somebody else’s eyes, you realize that, for quite a long time, during building projects on campus, art was integrated into the building. And that hasn’t happened for a long time.”
The consultants are set to return to UW this month, meeting with art students Sunday.
On Wednesday, they are scheduled to host “idea swaps” — one for faculty and staff from noon-1 p.m. and another open to all members of the community from 4-6 p.m. The first presentation takes place in room 129 of the College of Business Building, while the community presentation takes place in Room 506 of Coe Library.
“They want to find out where do you feel like art is needed?” Klages said. “Where do you feel like there are gaps?”
She added in addition to putting forth ideas for the acquisition of new art, the consultants’ plan is expected to include ideas for cataloguing the many works of public art already scattered across campus.
“One of the things they’re going to help try and do is formulate a database, maybe even start to create a virtual tour,” Klages said. “I try to remember all of the pieces, but they’re not marked, they’re not signposted much and so it’s harder and harder to find these pieces, unless they’re the ones you’re most familiar with, like the Ben Franklin or the University Family in Prexy’s (Pasture).”
ASUW President Ben Wetzel said the student government is putting forward $60,000 of the $72,000 pricetag on bringing the consultants to campus and developing a plan.
Wetzel said students care about the status of art on campus and have been vocal about particular works — such as the University Family statue, which depicts a nuclear family — in the past.
“It’s something that we know students have felt passionately about before,” he said. “One of the other things that really rang through with the plan was it’ll hopefully integrate art from students … It’s definitely something that students are passionate about and care about.”
Klages said it was important to have student support since the purpose of the plan is bringing more people to the table.
“What we want to see is more buy-in from our constituents on campus for people who really will want to see some of these changes happen,” she said. “It shouldn’t just be art and (UW Art) Museum people … Artwork on campus affects everyone because we’re all interacting with it. So, I think it’s really important that people are part of that decision-making process in some way, shape or form.”
The campus art plan will be presented to the Board of Trustees in June, Klages said.