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Central Library, Seattle

Issues with New Media Commissions

Speaking at a conference organised by American for the Arts in 2004, Temporal Shift: Digital Documentation and Specific Duration Public Art Projects, the former Seattle Public Art Programme Director, Barbara Goldstein drew upon her experiences in the city, including the commission of video/digital-based works for Seattle Central Library.

Goldstein recommends that such works should not be considered to have an indefinite life span, and that a recognition of their relatively temporary status should be incorporated into the management of commissions from the outset. This is partly, she says, because the public have a tendency to get bored with video, which "can become background noise after a while". But also the technical support of the work is likely to be rendered obsolete by rapidly changing developments in digital technology (although the physical context of the work is just as likely to fail). However, Goldstein also advises being prepared to "deal with the de-accession of works in the face of public popularity", or alternatively to find ways to make them permanent.

A special maintenance fund should be set aside for public art projects, though from Goldstein's experience in Seattle, maintenance costs of digital works have not been great (the main cost has been that of replacing bulbs - Oursler's installation needs $5000 worth of projector bulbs a year). As the cost of technology decreases, Goldstein observes, the main cost of such a project has become that of the artist's time.

Above all, she says, Seattle has learned to be very careful not formally to take possession of an artwork until any "kinks" in its installation, performance and maintenance have been ironed out.

© Copyright David Briers 2005