At a January Arts for Colorado-sponsored event at Denver’s Paris on the Platte, national public art consultant John Grant interviewed Jack Becker to get to the bottom of something. Becker is the Director of Forecast Public Art, a national resource for the public art field.
When reviewing Becker’s history with public art, you have to go back almost to the beginning. One could argue that his work in the field began in college, where he received his bachelor of fine arts from Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Or you could say that his career interest took shape when he established Forecast Public Art in 1978. But, as Becker explained it, you have to go back even further than that.
In 1963, Becker, a third grader in St. Louis, was asked to write something on a piece of paper about the city in which he lived. Although Becker insists he cannot remember what it is he wrote, he joked that it was “probably something profound.” Becker and all his classmates were to take these facts about the city and place them in a time capsule to be buried under the new Gateway Arch that was being built on the west bank of the Mississippi river in Downtown St. Louis. “You could see the legs of this thing climbing up into the sky,” Becker recalled.
The rest, as they say, is history. The Gateway Arch was completed in 1965 and has gone on to become one of the most iconic public art pieces in the United States. The Arch also played a role in revitalizing the once-crumbling riverfront area. For Becker, a seed was planted and a profound impact was made. “This is how I grew up; this is what I thought all cities did,” he said.
While Becker admits his history with public art is unique, he insists it is never too early to educate young people about not only the value of public art but to also let them know they too can be a part of shaping the landscape around them.
“You start to think about what kind of influences can happen at early education,” he said. “Do children ever hear the word ‘design’ in early education? Do they realize that someone designed the chair they are sitting in or the building they are learning in? Do they realize they can be a part of that?”
So, while Becker believes you must go back to the beginning to trace the true path of public art, he still thinks that by giving it time, we can build our own history.
“It is a way of thinking about building a city and validating our identity. That way, it can organically grow from within.”