Having a strong belief that there is no such idea as an overabundance of public art, I recently spoke at the Yakima City Council about what we are accomplishing in Yakima and what other cities like Seattle are also working on with their “Vibrant Communities” project. In Seattle, public art is found in crosswalks, traffic signal boxes, street murals and community gardens.
Cities in the Yakima Valley have been following much the same path with art on traffic signal boxes, murals and a new program for painted crosswalks.
During a recent visit to Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast, I could see the potential of a vibrant public art program as there is art and color wherever you look.
The boardwalk following the seaside in Puerto Vallarta, called the Malecon, has a number of public art projects in place, including intricately designed mosaics that were created by Jalisco-born Fidencio Benítez Sánchez, a prominent Huichol (Wixarika) artist, and then carefully laid out by workers using a traditional technique with river stone-pebbles in a cement wash.
Some of the Hucihol motifs that adorn the Malecon include a snake that is the queen of the sea; scorpions, the queens of the rain and caretakers of the desert; the shark, representing the sea; and a human element of a shaman who speaks with the gods.
Walking along the Malecon, you also encounter large fiberglass hearts that were part of an exhibition in 2020 called “De Corazón para el Mundo.”
“From the Heart to the World” features 29 heart shapes that showcase the cultural, natural, historical and gastronomic heritage of the municipalities of Jalisco (Lagos de Moreno, Mascota, Mazamitla, San Pedro Tlaquepaque, San Sebastián del Oeste, Talpa de Allende, Tapalpa, and Tequila).
This public art exhibition was part of an artistic and cultural project to promote tourism in the state of Jalisco’s “Pueblos Mágicos.” This was a way of promoting Jalisco as a tourist destination and providing an opportunity for Puerto Vallarta artists.
Along with the large heart shapes and embedded pebble designs are large bronze sculpture installations amid verdant plantings. Although a challenging time for pedestrians during the pandemic, the boardwalk was alive with locals, tourists, music and artists.
After visiting the Malecon one day, I returned the next day to find a new installation of some very large colorful sculptures. Titled “Muestra Artistica,” giant bulls, mythical creatures and Día de los Muertos figurines greeted passersby.
The unique artisan works were part of Mayofest 2021, a monthlong celebration of the arts that included poetry, film, lectures and conversations that were free and open to the public.
And it wasn’t just the art along the Malecon; the pebble designs continued in the sidewalks around town, and other public art projects such as mosaics colored the landscape.
The presence of public art, such as what is seen in Puerto Vallarta, tied businesses and residences together into its own vibrant community.
• David Lynx is executive director of the Larson Gallery at Yakima Valley College. He writes this weekly column for SCENE. Learn more at www.larsongallery.org.