In the state of Louisiana, on the banks of the historic Mississippi River, lies the city of Baton Rouge. It’s a city steeped in culture and history that’s often overshadowed by it’s much louder, more popular Louisiana metropolis New Orleans. But it is here that a small nonprofit museum has been established to celebrate the best public art in the world.
Choosing a town like Baton Rouge for its headquarters makes sense for the Museum of Public Art. In a recent video, Museum Director Kevin Harris explains the importance of public art, and why it’s less invasive than the art in galleries. “The benefit of public art is not necessarily conscious or literal, it’s unconscious,” he says in a video promoting their recent Egoless event, “And when you try to get people to explain ‘how does this benefit you?’ they can’t consciously come up with a reason, even though it affects them.”
The museum was the brainchild of Mark Rogovin, Marie Burton, and Holly Highfill, leaders in the Chicago mural renaissance. Founded in 1973, the museum and its curators wanted something that rejected the usual means of “making it” in the art community. Instead of barring access, they wanted to open it up and include the community in their artistic endeavours and politics. So the Museum of Public Art was created with a simple but important mission statement, that “the priority audience for which we paint is the audience of our own communities, working people of all ethnic backgrounds. Our subject matter comes from the history and culture, the needs and struggles, of communities. Our art speaks of the dignity of the people and projects a vision of a future free from war and exploitation. The form we have chosen is murals, murals can be a great way to reaching thousands upon thousands of people, since they are in public spaces, accessible to everyone.”
The building itself is small and unassuming, a contrast to the powerful pieces inside, a brick building on the corner of Eddie Robinson and Myrtle in the Old South Baton Rouge Community. The building, naturally, is surrounded with murals that constantly change based on who’s available and who wants to paint. The museum itself is open every Sunday for tours and insights into what public art is, how it’s important to the community, and what’s on display at the museum.
What the Museum of Public Art accomplished is an important mix of what makes street art important and different. While the building itself rotates artists, it’s constantly giving a permanent place to artists who want to connect with the community. It gives an art form that is almost necessarily without a home, without a permanent place, exactly that: a space that can be considered safe and useful for a community that isn’t safe, and is often derided as being useless. Here, public artists are given the museum treatment, their works taken seriously without crossing over into the traditional system that has discriminated and dissuaded thousands of artists from gaining legitimacy and recognition. Instead, this is a museum for street artists, by street artists, and catering to anyone who thinks public art is an important part of our contemporary and historical experience.
Be sure to check out their online gallery.