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San Diego’s Airport Gets Serious About Art

Your departure was late, you were seated in front of a crying child, and now you are rushing toward the baggage claim at San Diego International Airport’s Terminal One, wondering if your suitcase made it. Understandably, you are a little stressed.


Just before you get to the Southwest Airlines carousel, you notice a large wooden grid with gently undulating lights and you realize they shift depending on the people moving beneath them. You take in the lights, you look at the people, you may even shift your position to see if your movements also affect the pattern. Suddenly, you are not feeling quite as anxious.


“That tends to be the nature of my work,” said San Diego artist and architect Miki Iwasaki, whose “Signalscape” was installed at the airport last week. “I don’t want to have things that create anxiety, that create more stimulation. I want to do something that allows you to be more introspective.”


Iwasaki’s work is the latest in a series of public art commissions the airport has initiated since the San Diego Regional Airport Authority took over the facility in 2003 from the Port of San Diego.


Guided by a master plan developed in 2006 by the airport’s art program manager Constance White and funded by an airport authority mandate that 2 percent of certain public area construction costs be applied to art, the airport’s ambitious art program aspires to “lead the world in vision, innovation and design” and include a diversity of art and artists from the San Diego region.


“Art has become an integrated part of our facilities and the daily operation of the airport,” said Thella Bowens, the Airport Authority’s President and CEO. “From my perspective, it fits into the vision of what the airport is because our job is to create a travelers’ experience that is efficient, satisfying, and to a certain extent, unique. Everything we do with public art helps us to achieve that.”


When the authority took control of the airport from the Port of San Diego, it inherited a collection of public art that was uneven at best, a civic embarrassment at worst. But under White’s leadership, and with the assistance of an arts advisory committee and an artist selection panel that includes representatives from local arts organizations, the airport’s art fortunes are improving.


White oversees a performance series and three separate visual arts programs: A set of display cases with rotating exhibits generally reflecting local arts or arts-related organizations; temporary exhibits that primarily showcase local artists, and permanent works of “public art,” such as Iwasaki’s new $180,000 project.


The $1 billion expansion of Terminal Two, the largest construction effort in the airport’s history, will include roughly $6 million worth of art and art-related projects. Nine artists have been contracted to deliver installations in 2013, when the “Green Build” is scheduled for completion, and an additional three will be commissioned early next year.


“The airport is a front door and a back door to the region,” said White, previously public art program coordinator for the city of Dallas. “One of the things we want to do is provide a cultural peekaboo to the traveling public as to what San Diego has to offer. We’re more than just a beach town. We’re more than just a military town. There’s a richness here that a lot of people don’t really think about.”


From San Diego Union-Tribune.

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