Volusia County: 
Public Art is a Public Right

An area’s art scene has commonly been tied to its strength and viability on the global business and culture fronts, and that perception is especially true of local and public art. In addition to its measurable economic impacts, research claims that public art raises perceived quality of life, lowers crime, and strengthens communities. The research suggests that residents of and visitors to areas where art is readily observed in everyday business experience the “pause” that considering art evokes; and because that consideration crosses those difficult boundaries of socioeconomics, culture, language, and experience, those surrounded by art in their cities and public places often hold a higher opinion of the area and a stronger sense of community.

It was recognition of this dynamic in 1990 that provoked officials to formalize public art’s value to Volusia County by writing the Art in Public Places (AiPP) Ordinance. Reaching beyond the economic impact of art in the community, the ordinance claims that “by emphasizing the aesthetic, informational, educational, cultural, and/or historical aspects of public buildings and spaces, substantial benefits will be gained by encouraging works of art to be included in private developments, and by expanding the historical, cultural, and creative appreciation of its citizens.” The ordinance goes further to “[recognize] that providing for the visual arts is a basic service to all citizens,” and that it will therefore be funded as such.

The resulting AiPP Ordinance requires between .5% and 1% of the construction budget of any county building with normal public access be set aside for acquiring artwork to be displayed in the building or its public grounds and walkways. So far, that budgeting has allotted over $1 million to the program, whose 16 county facilities have acquired over 200 pieces of art for permanent display from 76 artists.

Robert Redd, Volusia County’s cultural coordinator, and manager of AiPP insists that art “is not, nor should it be, always in stuffy, exclusive galleries. Art is to be shared, enjoyed, and debated.” So county-owned outdoor spaces such as DeLand’s Chess Park might have pedestrians pausing over local artist Jill Cannaday’s mural on the human condition, or those strolling between the shops, restaurants, and hotels of Ocean Walk Village might stop for photo opportunities with John Wilton’s sea-life themed outdoor sculptures and designs.

Often, the buildings in question are obvious opportunities for public education. Volusia’s five libraries house the works of 14 local artists, including outdoor fountain sculptures, indoor sculptures, paintings, photographs, drawings, digital compositions, and reliefs. Art at research and administration centers usually touches on the subject matter of the building, such as the jigsaw sea turtle panels at Ponce Inlet’s Marine Science Center and the interpretive wall sculptures and polymer panels at Lifeguard Headquarters in Daytona Beach, depicting the beaches’ recreational activities. Three local artists display works at DeLand’s Agricultural Center representing central Florida’s rich natural and agricultural landscapes.

Centers of government and commerce house the highest numbers of artwork. At Volusia’s Historic Courthouse, seven local artists represent Florida’s natural and manmade heritage through 27 pieces, including photographs, paintings, drawings, and collages. And the Volusia County Courthouse features 35 regional artists over 76 works covering almost every art medium.

Since venues often house indoor and outdoor sculptures and other artwork that requires upkeep, the ordinance stipulates that such works must be accompanied by detailed maintenance instructions, and that funding for such maintenance be included in the building’s annual operating budget.

What kinds of works to obtain by which artists is a strict process guided by an advisory board to the Volusia County Council. While not a requirement, a large majority of the artists featured are from central and south Florida, and much of the subject matter features Floridian themes, histories, and landscapes. Winter Park photographer/artist says that isn’t a surprise. “Most people are proud of where they’re from,” he says. “The Art in Public Places program, when they commission local art, is an extension of that. People who live on the coast are proud of their beaches, and people here in Florida have always been proud of orange groves,” so seeing aspects of their world interpreted by artists and displayed in their public places enriches their lifestyles and sense of community.

And while many of these county buildings see mostly local traffic by nature, two stand-outs of Volusia’s AiPP program offer hundreds of thousands of visitors a portal into the county’s art experience. The Daytona Beach International Airport, for example, saw over 750,000 comers and goers this fiscal year, visitors who are greeted by the works of 20 artists, including Vaughn’s six-panel oil-painted panoramic photograph of a Canaveral Beach scene over the Volusia room at the airport’s gate entrance.

While the airport was originally built before the 1990 AiPP Ordinance came into being, according to the ordinance, any major county building redesign with a budget over $1 million must adhere to the same art funding appropriation as new buildings. So its 1992 expansion, and its forthcoming redevelopment, bring more public art to Volusia County.

The same is true for the $82 million renovation in 2009 of the Ocean Center, a grand meeting space in the center of Daytona Beach. Events at the Center bring in over 200,000 attendees each year, and the space boasts a 100,000 square foot gallery exhibiting nine artists’ works over various mediums. Highlights include Beth Ann Carver’s two tremendous triptych oil panels depicting women playing in the water, which celebrate, in the artist’s words, “the simple joys of living.” Other sculptures and paintings at the Ocean Center depict aspects of the Florida experience, both specific and abstract—from the cacophony of aquatic life to the motion of waves and the wind—ensuring that even visitors who are only in town briefly for an event will come away with a broader sense of “Florida” than they’d otherwise experience indoors.

Twenty-six years after the Art in Public Places Ordinance passed in Volusia County, its intentions seem to be panning out. Organizations such as the City of DeLand and the Museum of Art, DeLand, have partnered on several projects that bring even more art to people’s everyday experience, including downtown sculptures, murals, and utility projects. The combined public arts projects showcase Volusia’s recognition of art’s power to celebrate diversity and strengthen community, and its wisdom to therefore position public art as a public right.