Art for Parks

Public parks and artistic expression were made for each other. In fact, they may be one in the same. Frederick Law Olmsted certainly believed that. His parks are outstanding examples of public design and construction doubling as art. Here in Orlando, we’re working to harness the power of art. Many of these programs are easy to implement and may fit with what you’re already trying to accomplish.

Funding for the Arts

Funding for artistic projects in public parks is often neglected and overlooked. It is seen as a frill or want and not a need and, as such, is often not included in budgets. Luckily, our elected body, sees public art as a need and regularly dedicates a portion of our new parks budget to public art projects, controlled by an advisory committee. This committee determines the scope of the project and evaluates submissions from the artistic community – eventually awarding a commission to a local artist.

In addition to budget money, we’ve found art programs are a perfect opportunity to develop partnerships within your community – partnerships that expand your ability to incorporate art into public spaces. These partnerships can take many shapes or forms.

For example, if you charge fees for the use of your parks as venues for special events, a percentage of those fees can be allocated to establishing a public arts presence on the grounds. You can then take those funds and challenge your corporate community to match them.

Or, you can reproduce the attractive flyers (and other material) already used to publicize and promote your local special events (arts & crafts shows, entertainment, etc.) and sell them as collectables or keepsakes. Or, you can use them as public art by simply framing and mounting them on the walls of some of your facilities.

Of course, the best thing you can do is talk about it. Start the discussion. Start talking about incorporating art into your park system. You will be amazed at what resources appear.

Arts Programming

The partnering process can move beyond basic funding issues and include programming as well. Since the arts run a wide gamut in both the performing and visual arts and since it is virtually impossible to have expertise in all of these diverse disciplines, consider partnering with your local art organizations. Some options may include:

Art Camps – Partner with you local schools especially the middle and high schools to offer intensive arts camps for both the performing and visual arts. These can be offered during times of school holidays or the summer. Employ the art teachers and some talented students to instruct and remember to use some of the proceeds of enrollment to fund future art projects in your public parks. This is a great partnering opportunity for the corporate sector too.

Art Contests – Hold student and adult art contests. Build them around themes. Use your art advisory board or other volunteers to judge the submissions. Prominently display and recognize the results to bring buzz (and possible partner support). In our summer program we hold a youth art contest (the winner is recognized by the Board of County Commissioners at a public meeting). The winning piece is replicated on several vehicle wraps that encase some of our recreation vans and is thus displayed on our roadways for one year. The student’s name, age, etc. is also displayed for the world to see on the exterior of each van and truck.

Scholarships – Offer scholarships and other discounts to deserving and low-income students to those deserving students who utilize your arts programs. This is another great opportunity for your business community to become financially involved.

Web sites – If your department hosts a web site consider having students in the performing arts write, direct and perform in shows and plays that are shown on your site. This is a great way to showcase your programs and to recognize some really creative kids.

Marketing with Art

Pick up any magazine. Look at the cover and scan the advertisements. Next, look at some TV ads before flipping the channel. What you frequently may notice is that art plays a huge role in getting the advertisers message through to the audience. You can do the same thing for your parks and recreation operations. Some ideas that we have employed are:

Posters – Design a poster to reflect some of your high profile parks and programs. These pieces of art can be displayed in bus kiosks, on and in mass transit busses and trains, on bulletin boards and other locations throughout the community. Done effectively they will become collectables and may be sold in your souvenir outlets at special locations. (For inspiration take a look at the San Francisco Bay Area National Parks web site -- We are producing generic poster art to place in our kiosks that are located along our many miles of hike and bike trails. These pieces call the readers attention to getting ready for summer such as, “Moms! Get your child into summer recreation…”

Banners – Use the same design or others and reproduce them on the banners that hang from the banner arms in your downtown or other locations. We have banner arms installed in our parking lots and entry way light poles.

Vans and Trucks – Do vinyl art wraps on every government vehicle you can. Use these mobile billboards to tell your story and advertise your presence. These are not overly expensive and they reach many more customers, more regularly then other forms of advertising.

Direct Mail – Computers are great! They allow us to keep a complete file of everyone that has enrolled in programs throughout our park system. We sort these by interest and purge the list every year. By doing so we can target direct mail advertisements to those people who already know and have used us before. Use this as an opportunity to call attention to the artistic equation of the park and recreation movement in your community. Trust me. It will pay off.

Commercials on Government TV – If your community is like ours, there is a cable TV channel devoted to broadcasting government meetings and the like. Have the producers of these broadcasts produce commercials showcasing your programs and parks. We have even used this vehicle to broadcast our youth game of the week -- doing play-by-play of our youth sports leagues throughout the year.

Art in parks has moved way beyond the statuary of a noble and historic figure beckoning to all. It is and should be a central part of your parks and your recreation programming. After all art is central to the creativity that is a hallmark of recreation. Reach out to your community through public art and you will be very gratified at the community response.

William Potter is the parks and recreation division manager for Orange County Park, Florida. He can be reached at