Our View: Art Can Chart Inclusive Future

May 17th, 2019, 12:00 AM

Erie at its most basic is a space we share.

The city must change to survive. And that change, given how differently we are situated— in terms of culture, income, history, horizon, outlook, and values — carries with it the power to divide, sour and weaken an already compromised civic body.

Retreating to familiar corners and grimly defending tired lines — as some did amid recent controversy involving the Erie Downtown Development Corp.'s plans — is no way forward. Erie can afford neither to be remade nor locked into inertia by any single constituency.

Better to emerge a city thoughtfully shaped by the voices, perspectives, and needs of all.

We typically do this workaround tables and in public meetings. Let art finesse it, as well.

Erie Arts & Culture Executive Director Patrick Fisher has spoken at length about the important role art — with its capacity to connect people to place, elevate different perspectives and confront problems — should play in crafting Erie's future. As Fisher said in January, "If all of the current collaboration, new resources, and momentum don't actually equate to change for everybody, to get folks to buy in and believe in Erie on the next round is going to be impossible."

That vision guides Erie Arts & Culture's New Horizons Initiative that aims, among other things, to integrate public art into the many community revitalization plans in play. It was advanced Monday in Barbara Goldstein's keynote presentation on public art at the Erie Art Museum.

Public art is not just art dropped in a public space; it involves the public, Goldstein explained. It can be whimsical and unifying like the images of diverse residents' waving hands on a screen wrapped around a parking garage in San Jose, California. It also can raise pointed questions, spotlight forgotten histories, focus attention on crises and create constructive gathering places in blighted neighborhoods — all of which we think can help inform needed reflection and conversation in Erie.

Erie boasts a growing collection of art that reflects its ethnic and industrial heritage, such as "Fruits of Labor," the imposing metal draft horse on East 13th Street.

More will result from New Horizons. We also welcome news that a long-overdue homage to women who led the local suffrage movement will adorn the former Erie Sport Store building. And businessman Julio Reyes just laid out a forward-looking, inclusive vision for the former Erie Maennerchor facility, including a tiled wall honoring the region's immigrant heritage. He said the offerings at the complex, including ethnic food, must be "authentic."

That word, meaning real and genuine, should remain a touchstone as we chart Erie's new future — based on who and what we are, together.

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