A statement for the Arkansas Sculptor’s Guild (based in Royal, Arkansas) lists five key goals that comprise the group’s central mission. Among them are two goals focused on the interaction between art and the general public: “To expand the public understanding of sculpture as an art form,” and “to expand the appreciation of public sculpture.” In terms of city-sanctioned art, sculpture seems to have become the dominant public art form in the Central Arkansas. Throughout Little Rock, three-dimensional art features in prominent positions highlighting the city’s key landmarks and serving as reminders of the Little Rock’s history.
One of the city’s most prominent public art collections is the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, just south of the Arkansas River near the Peabody Hotel. The garden, which grew from the notion of a memorial to the daughter of City Director Dean Kumpuris, displays works by many different artists, some of them local. The same location features the annual Sculpture in the River Market show and sale, which attracts thousands of visitors and features hundreds of sculptures from all around the nation. The show is sponsored by the City of Little Rock as well as the National Sculptor’s guild, and much like the Little Rock Film Festival, is an attempt to turn Little Rock into a viable and nationally competitive cultural center.
In multiple senses of the word, public art is an investment. Art is one commodity that generally does not lose value over time, which can make it a good financial investment, assuming the collector can choose pieces that will continue to be interesting long into the future. For a city, public art can also be a good investment in terms of revenue, because people like to visit beautiful places.
But public art is more than a financial investment: it is an investment in the success of a community. This could be one reason that Little Rock has seen sculptures popping up in areas striving hard to revitalize. For example, the growing South Main district has been growing as a community focused on sustainable development, and since 2007 has featured an annual sculpture competition as well as the Bernice Garden, which is home to sculptures by local artists. North Little Rock’s Argenta Arts District is a similar story: as the area has strived to reawaken and to develop its identity as an artistic community, public art in many forms has continued to appear – murals and sculptures chief among them.
In November of 2012, three sculptures in the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, totaling an approximate worth of $20,000, were stolen or destroyed, likely so those responsible could sell the art for scrap metal. Though the sculptures were insured, they were original works of art and are irreplaceable. It is frustrating to see this important city investment damaged, especially for such selfish reasons, but this is also a risk involved in any attempt to better a community: there will be people who simply don’t understand the greater value of whatever initiative they might obstruct.