Pooling artists 

Oklahoma City is looking to add new artists to a pool that helps advance public art projects.

click to enlarge Robbie Kienzle is the art and cultural affairs liaison and program planner for Oklahoma City. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Robbie Kienzle is the art and cultural affairs liaison and program planner for Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City is currently accepting applications from artists interested in joining its prequalified artist pool. The pool is used to identify artists for various public art projects budgeted under $25,000 throughout the city.

The pool is part of the city’s public art master plan and a recommendation from San Diego, California-based art consultant Gail Goldman. After the planning study, officials said it was clear the community wanted help identifying qualified professionals to undertake public art projects.

“There was a real need to help people, help the private sector identify which artists would be almost recommended by the arts commission, who would be able to deliver a quality project that could make it through design, review and permitting,” said Robbie Kienzle, City of OKC’s art and cultural affairs liaison. “The other thing [Goldman] found was that it took a really long time to go through the process that is required by the city, by state law, to realize a public art project.”

While anyone can use the pool to find qualified artists and get in contact with them, Kienzle said the pool significantly speeds up the city’s public art projects.

“It really saves us about three months in our process when we’re able to do this,” she said. “We don’t have to spend as much staff time on them because we’ve already done a bulk of it up front. But in the end, too, we find that the prequalified pool artists, because we do have a little bit more time, we can spend more time helping them, we can do training meetings.”

Selection processes

To get picked for a project, a selection committee made up of stakeholders meets to orient itself with the project. The committee then picks three finalists from the pool who get paid to go on a site tour and prepare conceptual design reports. The finalists present their concepts, and Oklahoma City Arts Commission makes a recommendation.

“This is always the most difficult part — the deliberation — because really any one of the finalists could be selected and we could have a successful project. But it really comes down to what’s right for that site and for that building or that park,” Kienzle said. “Then we go to city council twice. The first time we go to city council, we ask them to authorize staff to negotiate the contracts. They often want to hear our story about how the artist was selected. They love to hear that they came from the prequalified pool because we’ve been spending a lot of time on cultivating the pool now over the last few years. When we come back with the final contract, then we ask council to approve it. And then we get started.”

The pool is currently made up of 74 artists in 11 different categories, including art handling, murals, photography and mosaics. Three new categories will be added: ceramics, fiber and glass. There is no limit on how many artists can join the pool, but Kienzle said she hopes to have at least 100 artists.

To get into the pool, artists must submit a statement, resume, images and up to two professional references through BidSync, an online bidding program. The deadline is 4 p.m. June 18.

“We produce a report that then we can look at, and so the report will have all of the artist’s information, their artist statement, their resume and their images,” Kienzle said. “We put these in large binders and we deliver it through a secure site to professional art jurors who have agreed to do this. … Then we start going through the submissions one by one with a PowerPoint so that we can all see them together and talk about the images and what they submitted.”

After discussing the entries, jurors will make recommendations to the arts commission, which will then make final decisions.

Practicing artists over 18 years of age can apply individually or as a team. Experience with public art commissions is not required, but artists should be able to prove an ability to carry out public art projects.

“We’re looking for no huge blemishes,” she said. “If we have seen a disaster that’s occurred … probably one of the jurors would know that and want to talk about it. If I was coaching an artist that might have had an incident happen in their past, I would say embrace it in your cover letter. Explain why it happened from your perspective, what you learned about it and how it wouldn’t happen again.”

Kienzle encourages people to read the application instructions carefully, include a strong artist statement and reach out if they have any questions.

Supporting artists

Brett McDanel, an artist in the pool specializing in 3D work, said he joined after several people encouraged him to do so.

“I was kind of scared to do it because, I don’t know, it kind of seemed like a big deal,” he said. “I got shortlisted for a project probably four or five months ago, and I won the bid. I completed my first project probably in less than a year — maybe a little bit more than a year — of being a part of the pool.”

McDanel recently completed “Windswept Wall,” an outdoor patio art screen at Fire Station No. 29. He encourages other artists to pursue artistic opportunities and not be afraid to join the pool.

“By the time I did a proposal and got accepted to build something … it just made me feel like I was doing the right thing. It made me feel like I was designing something worthwhile,” he said. “People enjoyed what I was doing, and it really wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. I love what I do, and I just got to do it on a bigger scale. Now everybody can see it.”

The pool has also been used for things outside public art. For example, three of the artists in the pool interviewed for city hall’s artist-in-residence program. Erica Bonavida, an artist in the pool specializing in 2D work, was selected and is currently in that role.

“As we build other programs to support artists, like our artist-in-residence program, we’re also building that in a way that it comes from the pool,” Kienzle said. “It’s an extension from the pool, so we will continue ... to look for ways to give artists a reason to be in the prequalified tool. That’s why, even if they typically do work that’s over $25,000, I encourage them to be in the pool. It’s also what we use to recommend to the private sector. I have calls every week where people say, ‘You know, I’m in a design review district or I’m in a historic district or I’m building something new, and I would really like a piece of artwork. How would I find an artist?’ And I always recommend, ‘Go to the prequalified pool.’ It’s like looking through a catalog. You can see what kind of work kind of works with the design and who the artists are, and it puts you in direct contact with them.”

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