A bronze animal “Jamboree” adds character to Courthouse Square and the 10-foot abstract bird “La Colomba” takes flight outside the Columbia Public Library. These sculptures are two examples of how Columbia demonstrates its penchant for art through public efforts designed to bring culture and beauty to the city.
Percent for Art is the program responsible for publicly funded art such as a sculpture at the city Activity and Recreation Center. The program was started in 1997 and allows for 1 percent of the budget of city construction or renovation projects to be set aside for on-site public art. The Columbia City Council made the allowance because it felt that art enriches and improves the city. It also gives artists an opportunity to demonstrate their work in public places, not just in private galleries.
Since Percent for Art is a publicly funded program, the Office of Cultural Affairs and the City Council make sure that the public can comment on everything from picking the artist to approving the design.
“We do a public comment setup where people can come into the government building and read about what is being proposed and give their comments,” says Kay Kjelland, a cultural program specialist for the city. “Generally, the public art has been very well received.”
The Public Art Guide is a self-guided tour of 22 sculptures around Columbia. Kjelland says that the Public Art Guide is a good example of how the public art programs can be used to involve people of many different ages.
“The Public Art Guide is accessible to teachers in public schools, private schools, mailings through the Chamber of Commerce, and it’s accessible on the Web,” Kjelland says.
One of the most noticeable and colorful public sculptures can be seen just outside the doors of the Columbia Public Library. “Cypher” is a combination of two sculptures created by Albert Paley in 2002. Many associate this piece with the library and feel it gives the library its personality.
On the library’s Web site, Paley described his work by saying “the sculptures function as sentinel guardians that herald the entering and exiting of the library.” He says that the title, “Cypher,” refers to “the signs, symbols and intricacies of the systemization of language.” The sculptures were installed in August 2002 and are a stop on the Public Art Guide map.
Other ways that people express their interest in public art programs are through numerous public art festivals held in Columbia each year.
Columbia’s Festival of the Arts, held the last full weekend of September, is celebrating its 13th year and includes visual performers on stage, a children’s theater and a 20-foot mural that people of all ages can help paint. To celebrate the literary arts, local authors read selections of their work on stage.
“It is something that people look forward to every year. It’s a wonderful family event, and it’s always very well attended,” Kjelland says.
Another popular art festival that is free to the public is the annual Twilight Festival, organized through the Central Columbia Association. On Thursday evenings in June and September the streets of downtown Columbia are filled with local artists, street musicians and carriage rides. Musicians in Flat Branch Park set the mood, and vendors from the Columbia Farmers Market sell their wares to the 8,000 to 11,000 people who usually attend each evening. Booths are also open where people can buy the creations of local artists.
“We’ve found that the Twilight Festival is a good place for artists to get their start,” says Carrie Gartner, director of the Columbia Special Business District and the Central Columbia Association. “A lot of artists that are nationally known got their start at the Twilight Festival, including Susan Taylor Glasgow, a glass artist who just ended a show at the Smithsonian.”
“The community embraces the arts,” Kjelland says. “I think that indicates that people feel good about what the arts are in Columbia.”