A guest speaker put sculptures, bronze statues, murals and ephemeral art installations in the spotlight at the Goddard Center on Thursday night.
Bryon Chambers, the director of education at the Oklahoma Museum of Art in Oklahoma City, led a forum explaining the practical benefits of art in public spaces. Kay Watson, with the Ardmore Beautification Council board, met Chambers while he was leading a bike tour of Oklahoma City’s public art.
“The people in this room care about this community,” Chambers said. “You realize the importance of quality of life in this place.”
Chambers presented different kinds of public art on display in Oklahoma City, from the
well-known red sculptures by Alexander Liberman to alleys full of rotating murals, explaining how the projects are funded by a one percent sales tax introduced in 1993. Chambers gave a brief history of metropolitan area projects, or MAPS, in Oklahoma City, and their tangible economic impact.
 “It took years, more than a decade of convincing people,” Chambers said. “With limited scope, it’s possible that government… can do something right, with input from the community, a community that’s willing to hold them accountable with some oversight.”
Chambers said with downtown Ardmore’s construction comes opportunities for public art that will draw more people to the area.
“All of that is a possibility for increasing why you want to linger in that place, why you want to stay in that place,” Chambers said. “All of it works together to make an identity of a place, and the benefit is real dollars.”
He showed multiple murals in different parts of Oklahoma City and the way they’ve made their neighborhoods more inviting, and in some cases, decrease crime.
“Pick an area, any alley,” Chambers said. “Add public art, and crime goes down.”
The presentation gave detailed information about funding, planning, creating and maintaining art projects, which can be complicated by things like city codes, unforeseen circumstances or damage to the pieces themselves.
According to Assistant City Manager Kevin Boatwright, Ardmore city code, like most codes, addresses public art with the same rules used for commercial signage.
“Most city codes don’t speak to public art,” Chambers said.
Chambers said public art that’s appropriate to a city needs to come from the people who live there, whether from local artists or pieces that reflect the area’s culture or history in some way.
“I don’t think a person can come and tell you what to do,” Chambers said. “But, I also suggest that a literal translation of history may not be your only option. There can be influences that aren’t that obvious. That kind of identity work makes public art a kind of identity work for the community.”
Watson said murals in particular are a passion of hers. She worked on the Lake Murray Drive mural from the beginning of the project to its conclusion last year.
“I’ve been on the council board for about 18 years, and that was the first thing they had me work on,” Watson said. “Eventually, we finally got it all put together, and to me it makes such a difference…It’s not just about tourism, it’s about how we feel, the people who live here every day.”