Foss: A case for public art

Columnist Sara Foss' son plays on public art at the Empire State Plaza.
Columnist Sara Foss' son plays on public art at the Empire State Plaza.

Categories: Opinion

There’s little love for Empire State Plaza. 

Ugly, inhospitable, a damaging mistake — these are some of the words commonly used to describe it. But in my years living in the Capital Region, the Plaza has grown on me. These days I spend a lot of time there with my son. 

There’s a lot to see at the Plaza, and it recently occurred to me that my son’s first exposure to art likely occurred on one of our walks. 

Recently we stopped at “Trio,” a large aluminum sculpture consisting of bright yellow abstract loops. My son climbed on it, crawled through it and ran around it. He didn’t know he was looking at art, but that didn’t make his experience any less enriching or meaningful. 

Empire State Plaza boasts a large collection of public art, which I consider one of its more redeeming qualities.

It injects the chilly marble complex with vitality and color, and makes the capital city a more interesting and attractive place to be. Seeing art usually requires a trip to a museum. Public art is located in the heart of a community, and can be looked at and appreciated by anyone. 

Public art is a good thing, and we need more of it. 

The Capital Region’s downtown resurgence is well underway, with new apartment buildings, shops and restaurants opening up all the time. 

One thing to consider, as this building boom continues, is when and how to incorporate public art into the new development that’s transforming Schenectady, Albany and Troy. 

Of course, every community benefits from art. 

A few weeks ago, I took a drive up to rural Washington County to visit a large-scale sculpture park, called Salem Art Works, located on an old dairy farm. 

Salem Art Works is a non-profit, and the array of sculptures on its grounds probably doesn’t qualify as public art in the traditional sense. It feels public, though. There’s no gate or fee to enter, and we were free to wander as we liked.

Like Empire State Plaza, SAW puts art in an unusual setting and invites the public to take it all in. 

Schenectady has embarked on some interesting public art projects in recent years, and I’m hoping we’ll see more. 

A rainbow pride sculpture commemorating the LGBTQ movement, installed earlier this year at Gateway Plaza, added a splash of color to downtown. The Schenectady Art Society has painted murals on traffic signal utility boxes throughout the city. A local artist recently painted a freight train mural on the railroad bridge on Front Street. 

These projects are good for the community. 

With any luck, we’ll be seeing more of them. 

Got a comment? Email me at [email protected]

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