Hear from a Bold and Brilliant Woman Who Made Public Art Her Career at TEDxGatewayArch
Public art enriches people’s everyday lives, bringing culture into common spaces and to people who might not otherwise visit an art gallery or museum. There’s power and purpose to placing art in public places—and there are people who dedicate their lives to ensuring great works of art make in onto streets and into parks across the nation. When Meridith McKinley founded the St. Louis-based consulting group Via Partnership, she was following in their footsteps, setting out to make communities stronger through the expansion of public art projects.
As she prepares to speak at the TEDxGatewayArch event “Bold & Brilliant Women” on Dec. 5, Guided: St. Louis caught up with McKinley to discuss the projects she’s most proud of and why she’s chosen to make a career out of bringing art to as many people as possible.
Guided: How did your interest in public art originally begin?
I was always interested in the arts, but it wasn’t something I initially thought would lead to a career. I grew up around creative people and always dabbled in different forms or art, whether that was visual or music. I studied international relations and initially set out to build a career around community development work. Many years ago, I took a job at Arts in Transit, which seeks to promote the use of public transit through art and innovation. At the time, I was curious about public art but not familiar with it. I had this amazing aha moment there where I realized this was an opportunity where I could blend my love of art and interest in making communities stronger. Working in the field of public art turned into a career.
Guided: What do you view as the role of public art in people’s everyday lives?
Bringing art into people’s everyday spaces is powerful. We don’t always have time to go to a museum or gallery, and for a lot of people there are barriers to accessing those institutions. People might not see themselves as “art people,” but if I can help an artist bring a work to a community, it has the power to catch someone in a meaningful way. Art can take someone out of a stressful moment or help challenge their way of thinking.
Guided: What impact can public art have on a community and city?
Public art has the ability to create community identity. It can help build strong connections to a place. Sometimes artists make works that are a reflection of the community or reveal something unique about a place. Public art can also boost cultural tourism. It can turn a city into a destination and a must-see opportunity. The Gateway Arch is a great example of this. It’s hard to imagine the St. Louis skyline without the Arch. It’s a piece of art; people come from all over the world to see it. Public art also builds community. It brings people together in meaningful ways.
Image courtesy of Via Partnership LLP.
Guided: What’s an example of a project you’re proud to have taken part in?
I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done at the airport. About 10 years ago, we worked with artist Alicia LaChance on the terrazzo floor medallion at Concourse C. It’s a project that welcomes people home in a magical way. It’s a beautiful, memorable work of art that brings identity to the airport.
Guided: If you could incorporate a public art exhibition anywhere in St. Louis, where would it be?
I’m really interested in how artists can raise questions around our notions of what it means to be urban or suburban in the 21st century. We’re drawing lines in the sand and being too tribal about how we view our identity. Old notions of what it means to be from the city or county are breaking down across the country—and also here in St Louis. I’d love to help raise questions around those ideas and break down the stereotypes linked to being a city or county person.
General admission and VIP tickets are available online for TEDxGatewayArchWomen’s “Bold & Brilliant Women,” which will feature live 18-minute talks interspersed with sets from musical guests including Tonina Saputo and Rubi. Groups of 30 or more can contact Steve@tedxgatewayarch.org for information on promotional rates.
TEDx events are independently run, with a goal of sharing ideas within communities—and in St. Louis, all of those on stage must have local connections. Featured speakers Dec. 5 at The Ferrara Theater at America’s Center include Sophia E. Hayes, a professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis who speaks with optimism about what we can do to combat climate change, and the Honorable Tishaura O. Jones, treasurer for the City of St. Louis, speaking about the positive results of small investments in children’s savings accounts.
Featured image courtesy of TEDxGatewayArch.
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