sarah lindgren

Public Art

Feature: Sarah Lindgren

Sarah Lindgren

Sarah Lindgren

Raising The Ante On Public Art

Sarah Lindgren is a government employee, which makes her, almost by definition, a bureaucrat - a terrible word with little positive association. Yet, as Public Art Administrator at Louisville Metro Government, she is the top authority on public art in the city, a job description that sounds anything but monotonous.

In conversation, Lindgren speaks of the issues surrounding public art with detail and confidence, but she also effectively illustrates the complexity of the topic. With substantial experience in museum administration with The Speed in Louisville and the St. Louis Art Museum, she clearly has the bona fides for the job.

Public Art Administrator is a job that never existed before 2014, a creation of the long in development Louisville Public Art Master, which in turn gave birth to COPA, the Commission On Public Art. Part of Lindgren’s role is to, in effect, head up COPA. But what does a commission on public art do exactly?

“COPA was established to advocate for all of the recommendations in the Master Plan, which included a position for Public Art Administrator,” explains Lindgren. “My job is to help artists and arts organizations navigate their way through the bureaucracy of public art. What permits are needed? What is required to site artwork in the right-of-way?”

So COPA is an advisory body making recommendations to Mayor Greg Fischer and the Metro Government on such questions as how to adequately archive and maintain the rich history of public art in the city. How much does the general public know about the significance of sculptures that have been a part of the fabric of the city for generations? How often do you drive past the Daniel Boone statue at the entrance to Cherokee Park with any thought to the fact that it was created by one of the most important women sculptors in the United States, Louisville-born Enid Yandell (1869-1934), who studied with Auguste Rodin? How many of us know with assurance where to find all of the Barney Bright statues in the city? Or works by Ed Hamilton?

That archive was one of the first tasks implemented from the Master Plan, with the help of Kristin Gilbert, Lindgren and photographer Luke Seward, who took fresh pictures of many of the pieces. But there also is a need to build consistent public policy towards public art, both old and new.

Beneath the Surface by Mary Carothers. Part of the 2015 Connect/Disconnect: A Public Art Experience.

Beneath the Surface by Mary Carothers. Part of the 2015 Connect/Disconnect: A Public Art Experience.

COPA is what Lindgren calls “a nexus for various areas of expertise to come together to address public art policy.” In some instances, city and state government might cross paths, and if the topic involves an institution such as the University of Louisville, the paths between action and accountability can be difficult to chart. “We also work with city departments and overlay review committees. Depending on the project, it can be a lot of moving parts.”

Most cities have requirements in place for new construction that demand developers include initiatives public space and/or public art, and so does Louisville. “We have a unique formula in the Land Development Code,” explains Lindgren, “which stipulates outdoor amenities or focal points be included in building plans for large-scale developments, or the developer can choose a fee in lieu of the amenity or focal point which goes into a restricted fund for public art.” The result is the establishment of a funding opportunity that will be offered in the next fiscal year, a grant application for funding new public art. The size and availability of this opportunity will, of course, vary depending upon the volume of new construction each year and developers that opt for the fee-in-lieu to support public art. “The fee-in-lieu option was added to the Code in 2010, but the recession slowed down construction. By 2016 with an increase in new development projects, there is also an increase in this type of funding for public art.”

The funding opportunity is just the latest initiative that Lindgren has brought to the Metro Government’s renewed attention to public art. In 2015 she managed Connect/Disconnect: A Public Art Experience, the inaugural project of COPA and Louisville Metro Government’s Public Art, which featured outdoor installations by five artists – Simparch, Jean Shin, Mark Reigelman, Jenny Kindler, and Louisville artist Mary Carothers. The pieces were only in place for a few months, but several have received national recognition. Other projects in various stages of development include:

River Monument (glomus) by SIMPARCH (Steven Badgett and Matt Lynch). Photo from Develop Louisville.

River Monument (glomus) by SIMPARCH (Steven Badgett and Matt Lynch). Photo from Develop Louisville.

The Louisville Knot

A project to install public art and lighting features to enhance the Ninth Street underpass, it is being developed in coordination with the Louisville Downtown Partnership. A multi-disciplinary team led by Interface Studio Architects (ISA), based in Philadelphia, and includes Shine Contracting, Louisville; Core Design, Louisville; Element Design, with offices in Lexington and Louisville; and LAM Partners, Cambridge, MA, would seek to turn the area under the 9th Street I-64 ramps into “an engaging and enticing public space tied together by local influences and traditions, providing a destination for exploration, commerce, and play.”

Love In The Street

An initiative by local poet and artist Lance Newman to curate a selection of poems by local poets and stamp them in a newly laid concrete sidewalk on 4th Street, between Chestnut and Broadway. The poems are intended to be love letters to the city. The project has a target completion date in spring 2018.

"Opportunity Portal" by Don Lawler & Meg White. Photo courtesy Meg White.

"Opportunity Portal" by Don Lawler & Meg White. Photo courtesy Meg White.

Bike Sense Louisville

Bike Sense Louisville is a public art project designed by Todd C. Smith. By providing sensor units to 100 Louisville cyclists (Citizen Cyclist Volunteers), data will be translated into helpful maps online as well as drive a public sound composition on the pedestrian Big Four Bridge. The resulting dataset will be open to the public and used by the city at the project's end to help in developing further improvements in bike infrastructure and planning.

Marquis Marie de Lafayette by Jean-Antoine Houdon (after). Photo by Michael Popp

Marquis Marie de Lafayette by Jean-Antoine Houdon (after). Photo by Michael Popp

It’s fair to observe that the creation of a Public Art Administrator position and the formulation of COPA represent a renewed focus on arts and culture that accompanied Greg Fisher into office, so given the shifting political landscape that characterize America in the last few years, how long can Louisville expect an arts professional such as Lindgren to have a seat at the public policy table?

“Well, my job is as vulnerable as any to a change in administration, but COPA is a public commission without salaries or budget of any kind – members are appointed by the Mayor and serve as volunteers, so it would be difficult to imagine why any new administration would not see their value.”

The recommendations are not limited to the benefit of the current administration or the city of Louisville but also extend to the uncertainty and lack of protections for individual artists. “As an artist, you deserve to work under a proper contract, to be paid appropriately and on time, and, when necessary, to have liability insurance in your project budget provided by your client. I want Louisville to raise the ante in advocating and implementing for best practices creating art in public spaces.”

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This Feature article was written by Keith Waits.
In addition to his work at the LVA, Keith is also the Managing Editor of a website,, which covers local visual arts, theatre, and music in Louisville.

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