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In the Eyes of the Beholder
By Denise K. Spencer / October 1, 2015
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. – Confucius

As time passes, opinions and trends evolve regarding what is beautiful and what is not. From music to fashion to body type, consensus about beauty is rarely reached. 

This includes art. A painting that fuels your desire to jump onto the canvas and become part of each brushstroke may leave me feeling flat and unmoved at best, or turning up my nose at worst. Art is designed to elicit emotion. So even if that emotion is negative, art has served its purpose. 

In selecting art for your home or personal space, there’s generally no controversy; you simply choose what you find appealing. But step into the world of public art – that is, art that’s located in public spaces – and impassioned debate ensues. One person’s “beautiful” can be another person’s “hideous.” And because the public has a connection to art that is placed in public spaces – and it should – everyone is free to voice their opinion. With all these opinions, selecting a piece of public art that satisfies all is not only difficult, it’s impossible. 

Let’s face it, our taste in art is personal and subjective. So if this level of subjectivity swings with such a wide arc, who makes the decision of which pieces should grace our community spaces? If you Google “Public art - Who decides?” you’ll find a long list of newspaper articles, online discussions and blogs filled with contentious debate, with both experts and “the common man” lamenting the choice of public art pieces around the world. 

Who makes the decision on Hilton Head Island? Since 2008 it’s been you and the Public Art Fund, a fund of Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. The purpose of the Public Art Fund is to promote and provide public art that enhances our natural and cultural environment, reflects our community values and our diversity, is in context and harmony with its setting, is accessible to all our residents and visitors, and promotes the vitality of our public spaces.

Every two years, the Public Art Fund hosts a public art exhibition that includes 20 large-scale sculptures. We send out a call for entries that is answered by hundreds of artists from around the world. A local jury – comprised of artists, gallery owners, curatorial consultants and art enthusiasts – reviews each entry, whittling down the hundreds to a mere 20. And you know what? Even the jurors don’t always agree which pieces to include. 

Selected artists are extended an invitation to participate. They sign contracts, provide detailed installation instructions and arrange shipping of their pieces and travel arrangements for themselves. Local companies and individuals volunteer their time and talents to help it all come together. The process can be arduous for artists, committee members, Community Foundation staff and volunteers. But the results make it all worthwhile.

This year’s exhibition opens to the public on October 1. During the first month, you’ll have the opportunity to voice your opinion on what you find beautiful by voting for the People’s Choice Award online (www.hhipublicart.org) or by submitting a paper ballot at the exhibition. Prizes are awarded to those artists who receive the most votes. 

Most importantly, at the end of the exhibition, one of the 20 pieces is selected for purchase by the Public Art Fund. That piece is, in turn, donated to the Town of Hilton Head Island and becomes part of their growing public art collection. The Town installs the piece in a public area where it can be enjoyed by all. 

Whether you’re an art enthusiast or not, the Public Art Exhibition on Hilton Head Island has something for everyone. The exhibition is spread throughout the grounds of Coastal Discovery Museum and runs from October 1 through December 31. Admission is free. If you like, you can take a docent-led tour for $10 per adult and $5 per child. 

Public art is there for everyone to enjoy. Become part of the discussion. Live generously by supporting the addition of public art in our public spaces, either by telling your friends about the Public Art Exhibition or giving a monetary contribution to the Public Art Fund. Find your “beautiful” in the different mediums. Be a part of public art!

Denise K. Spencer
President and CEO

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Community Foundation of the Lowcountry

Mailing Address
P.O. Box 23019
Hilton Head Island,
South Carolina 29925

Office Location
4 Northridge Drive, Suite A
Hilton Head Island,
South Carolina 29926
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