WHEN YOU WORK for a town, travelling takes on a different purpose. A few years ago I was in Los Angeles for a friend’s wedding. Based on the suggestion of an Atlantic Beach property owner who had recently visited beach towns south of Los Angeles, I drove down to Hermosa, Manhattan and Redondo beaches to see some recent streetscape improvements. My municipal fixation became apparent as I was facing away from the ocean taking a picture of a park bench, a set of recycling bins and light posts with excellent landscaping on the road leading to Hermosa Beach pier. A passerby tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know the ocean is that way,” pointing behind me, “it probably makes for a better picture than the trash cans.”
Two more recent trips – to Philadelphia and Mexico City – reminded me of the importance of something that we lack in Atlantic Beach, public art. While in Philly, I commented to my friend Jeff on the number of outdoor statues we saw while walking around. Jeff, who grew up in Philly and is rightfully proud of his hometown, noted that it has more public art than any city in the country. It’s a tradition the city has built as it revitalizes downtown. The public art is not merely a bunch of statues of Ben Franklin, but an excellent mix of styles and media that help provide Philadelphia’s public spaces with a real sense of place.
In Mexico City with my girlfriend (none of the trips were funded in any way by the Town of AB), reinforced the importance of public art. A strong tradition of public art in Mexico City stretches from the murals of Diego Rivera from the 1920s to murals by modern street artists from all over the world who are brought into Mexico City for street art festivals and to enhance existing buildings. Again, these paintings helped create a strong sense of place. This was particularly so in neighborhoods – like many of ours in Atlantic Beach – going through redevelopment and revitalization.
Strong street art programs are currently in place closer to home in places like Richmond and Miami. And, there is an increasing level of public art in Raleigh. They provide a better looking community and, if done properly, are a draw to arts-oriented visitors.
About a year ago, I wrote in these pages that we would be starting a citizen’s community to develop a plan for making the town a more attractive place. I heard from several people who are interested in participating, but I had to delay that project for a few months while we focused on our park improvements and other key projects. It is now time to revisit this idea and I will be contacting those who showed interest to set up a series of meetings to develop a plan for making our town’s streets and public spaces more attractive and welcoming. And, I’m hopeful that the committee will join me in support of public art as a tool for a making Atlantic Beach an even better place than it already is.
Mayor Trace Cooper