Talking to the sky

It seems like common sense that the university’s decision regarding public art on campus should involve, well, the public. Last Wednesday, the Center for Arts in Society held a public arts forum, during which members of the campus community were able to voice their opinions on the subject.

The discussion was the first of a three-week chain of events to be held on the subject, all of which precede a campus conversation on the topic that will take place on April 11.

The meeting began with opening statements by Clark Glymour, philosophy professor at Carnegie Mellon, and Terry Smith, art professor at the University of Pittsburgh, before the floor was opened to questions and comments from audience members.

Smith stated that public art requires some sort of response from the public, whether it’s positive or negative. If there’s no reaction to a new piece of art, he said, then it’s not serving its purpose and the public needs to be involved. Glymour, on the other hand, viewed public art as more of an imposition on the public that should be done away with.

Between 80 and 100 people attended the event, according to Krista Campbell, director of the Center for Arts in Society.

“The meeting was intended to be a precursor to the campus conversation, informing people of the issues before the actual deliberative poll takes place,” Campbell said. “People need to be more informed about the process if they feel the need to become involved.”

After “Walking to the Sky,” the university’s most controversial public art piece, was installed last May, members of the campus community felt that the decision had been made by administrators with little input from the community at large. The administration realized that Carnegie Mellon needed an official public art policy in order to prevent such issues in the future.

“People felt the sculpture was put up without due consultation,” said Dan Giesey, a junior philosophy and modern languages major and Coro fellow in local democracy for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy and the Coro Center for Civic Leadership. “There was a need after that to create a process that was inclusive and reflective of community need.”

The Policy for Public Art at Carnegie Mellon University, approved by the president’s council on February 24, 2006, established a process for the installation of public art on campus. According to the policy document, it called for a Public Art Committee (PAC) to review proposals for public art pieces, make recommendations to the president, and clarify the need for public art on campus in accordance with the campus master planning process.

The campus conversation is intended to inform participants of the new policy and allow them to provide feedback on the issue.

“If the public art committee has an idea of what people think, they will have a benchmark of what’s appropriate to put on campus,” Giesey said.

Participants will meet in small groups with a moderator to discuss the issues raised by the policy. At the end of the discussion, each participant will complete a survey that will be used to determine the campus community’s overall opinion regarding public art.

“In a very real sense, there is already a campus conversation about public art,” said Robert Cavalier, a Carnegie Mellon philosophy professor and director of the university’s Center for the Advancement of Applied Ethics and Political Philosophy. “We’re trying to formalize the conversation and make it more deliberative.”

As of last Friday, 82 people had registered to participate in the event, and another 42 signed up to volunteer.

In addition, those who are unable to attend can participate online via Project PICOLA at ( Participants can contribute to online discussions at prearranged times and then complete the survey, identical to the live sessions. The site will be active April 11–16.

This conversation is the third conducted on campus since 2005. The previous discussion, on faculty course evaluations, took place in September.
Giesey predicts that this semester’s turnout will be greater than the last. For the first time, Campus Conversations partnered with the alumni association and used online recruitment tools to reach a wider audience.

He also believes that the upcoming event’s topic should appeal to a broader audience than faculty course evaluations, which almost exclusively affect faculty and students. To more people, Giesey explained, public art on campus should be both interesting and controversial.

The results of the deliberation will be presented April 23 to the Public Art Workshop, a division of the Center for Arts in Society.
To participate in the upcoming campus conversation, visit (