One of the magical things about art is its subjectivity. One man's trash is another man's treasure. The artist is able to express him- or herself without the normal constraints that apply to everyday life. In turn, the viewer is able to respond to an object of art with a unique freedom that only art allows. We are not taken to task for our appreciation, or lack thereof, of artwork, regardless of the product or maker - it's all in the eye of the beholder. Public art - that is, art placed in public spaces for the benefit of the public-at-large - demands that this subjectivity be honed to a finer point.

The newest piece of public art is titled Gridmo by Connecticut-based artist Tim Prentice and was installed two weeks ago at the Quad City International Airport. It has been two years since the airport announced its Art at the Airport program and seeded it with a gift to Quad City Arts to orchestrate this ambitious project. This finer point of subjectivity includes the fact that Gridmo is installed in a highly visible gateway to our community, with the potential to establish (or not) first impressions to the world. Add to the mix that the piece was graciously funded by close to $60,000. A panel of 14 community members labored over 60 submissions from all over the U.S.

Subsequently, one has to wonder where the disconnect was that resulted in a work that many have deemed amateurish and has, as of yet, to inspire any wonderment, praise, or excitement that such projects aspire to. Two more high-profile pieces are on the drawing board for the airport, one to be installed yet this year. This week's cover story attempts to evaluate the process that got us here, and why the work fails to meet the very criteria used to select it. More difficult to confirm is what safeguards the airport and future project funders can expect to ensure that Quad City Arts delivers results that are truly inspiring.

It must be emphasized that while the actual artwork may be loved or loathed, the support and generosity of community leaders that made the installation possible should be heartily lauded. So great is the airport's initiative to implement the arts as part of its infrastructure and provide an image-altering amenity for our community that it cannot be praised enough. The management's commitment to art as an integral part of our airport experience reflects the progressive transformation and exciting image the Quad Cities' airport has created with its spectacular renovation.

This includes the terminal's museum-quality gallery of rotating local, regional, and corporate art, which, until June of this year, Quad City Arts subcontracted MidCoast Fine Arts to establish and implement. The rotation of artists through June 2003 has been juried by MidCoast but will now be installed by Quad City Arts. Promoted as a unique partnership at the time, Quad City Arts was, in turn, charged with commissioning several larger public artworks, securing donors to sponsor the artworks, attracting and choosing the artists, and overseeing the installation of the public works selected.

Genesis Health System, the donor for this first public artwork installation, is a wonderful model for corporate patronage of the arts and should be celebrated for its generosity. Genesis has given the Quad Cities, and our visitors, a tremendous gift - a stronger sense of community precisely because of its generosity and willingness to express its esteem for the community through its sponsorship of public art.

The good news is that this community embraces the arts as an expressive tool to grow our community both in size and experiences. Public art at the airport is only one such product of the vast arts programming available in the Quad Cities. Hopefully, the lessons learned with this project will only increase, rather than diminish, the community's discussion, appreciation, and patronage of the arts.

Editor's note: In the interest of full disclosure, the Reader's publisher, Todd McGreevy, is a former board member of MidCoast Fine Arts.

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