Preserving Creativity: Public Art in Keene

By Stephanie Case

The purpose of this project is to investigate how the Keene community participates in democracy through works of public art and to instill the importance of our communities creativity as a necessary piece to the bigger whole .

I am looking at Keene from a different perspective. What has Keene done with the opportunity democracy has provided us? This small town has many things that make up who we are but creativity is it’s most important. I am looking at public art downtown Keene whether it be curated, “vandalism”, or even historical landmarks and relating it back to how it defines the way people interact and perceive this place most of us call home. During this process I used Los Angeles California as a comparison of creativity and meaning. Through these works of creativity Keene is participating in the greater whole of democracy and spreading diversity.  Our culture depends on the relationship we have created with democracy and we wouldn’t be small town Keene without it. The example of street art is perfect because every person whether it be someone new or an everyday passer by shares something by seeing and interpreting these pieces of art. The meaning behind these public works of art being necessary derives from their importance. What I realized is that these pieces are equally important as the art people cherish in museums. Through these visuals we can literally retell important pieces of our past. I also used Keenes sister city in Einbeck, Germany. While Keene seeks to preserve its history and buildings Einback is so very opposite. Einbeck has graffitti tourism, turning plain walls into something eye catching.

Keene Through the Eyes of  Tourist

On 4/19/17 a man walked into my workplace. Incidentally he was from Los Angeles California, a place where public art has exploded. His impression of Keene was involved in the comparison between Keene and Los Angeles. He said he liked Keene and that it felt like he was a part of the community. I thought that if public art had exploded where he was from that people were just as connected. His impression was that the bigger the city had gotten the more disconnected he had become. Traveling to Keene and being in an downtown area where you could walk to every store and see the public art mixed in with this small town feel was the most important part of his reaction. The relationship between this art and the people is so different from larger cities because in a small town the likelihood of you knowing exactly who made it is so much greater and being able to see it all at once is easily done. The stories behind these pieces of art also travel faster. People aren’t running the rushed lifestyle that this man described and therefore the time to create these relationships is nourished. He described the feeling of being disconnected having to do with simply making your way to and from work fighting traffic and forgetting everything in between. This man also happened to mention a relationship between art, community, and what Keene calls, The Pumpkin Festival. He had heard about it and in his eyes it was a form of art. One that was put up one day and taken down the next.

Curation – Purpose – Interpretation

This piece of art in particular was curated and so was the piece posted  below. Two very different pieces of art given a home by the same person.

Although the artists were different the person who provided the opportunity for them to be their is the same. Keene, NH business man, Robert Wainwright owner of “Good Fortune” Pawn Shop and the entire building it lives in, has gone out of his way to bring color to downtown Keene. The mural in the above photo was put their almost 25 years ago because of Robert Wainwright, according to local business owners. After speaking with more of the owners it is said that their is a new curated piece being put in the works this very moment by the same person who spray painted the beautiful eye below. I guess they felt such a bland building needed a statement piece and that downtown Keene needed something new!

An Eye for an Eye?

Where did this come from ??! Unfortunately after asking around I still could not get the full name of the artist but her first name is Megan. Because of Megan and local business owner Robert the ugly run down back side of this building has now been turned into something out of the ordinary, something a passersby can not miss.

This piece of art is most eye catching piece in town….. no pun intended.  Perfectly placed on the bend of a wall. This piece of work literally looks at you. You feel like it’s staring into your soul.

As people walk by it is unavoidable. What do they think of it? Well they like it. Every person that has seen this once, twice, or hundreds of times, each of these people share something through what they’ve encountered.

Bu what does that mean????

It’s a part of who they’re and part of the experience of keene. This is not to say that you can’t have the experience without this one piece of art but it represents the meaning that collaboration has in this town and the space democracy has provided us with. Some might even feel a bit of tension when seeing this piece. For some the first question that comes to mind is was it curated? And the follow up to that question might be something like, well it’s technically graffiti so it must not have been. Unlike some of the other pieces this one has the opportunity to provoke stereotypes. I wonder what the people who don’t see graffiti as art would think when they found out this piece was curated. Maybe it would change their mind. It changed mine.

Turning blocked off doorways into something beautiful again.

In this case I feel like I have been taken back in time. They didn’t just paint any door they painted what probably the original door looked very similar too. In a way it fits in perfectly with downtown Keene because it brings our past back to life.

Who Are We?

When you visit Keene do you visit it because you know the film Jumanji was filmed here? Usually not. In fact people would not know that we are known for one of the most famous childhood movies of all time. What was left behind from the movie was this Parish Shoe sign which the city chose to keep.

Similarly to the one above another advertisement has also chosen to be kept in the city of Keene but this one is to represent its true past of being a factory town. The Keene community wants people to know what came before them.

Temporary Art has even more meaning

The next piece of art was created in support for the Keene Community Kitchen.

As a part of the historic district the mural was made temporary but that’s ok since a picture is worth a thousand words. Rosemarie Bernardi a professor from Keene State orchestrated this with her advanced printmaking students in 2016 who chose to focus on Keene’s efforts to feed the hungry (Pierce) . In an article written about this temporary piece there was a quote from Bernardi stating “Street artists, graffiti artists, use this technique, but I don’t know if I’ve seen it as an accepted form of art,” (Pierce). It was interesting to read those words because it’s true the things people use to create art have stereotypes behind them that often make or break whether or not people see them as “works of art”. But if they’re not art then what are they? Maybe what it means is that for it to be art it has to be used in the right way, that it has to hold meaning, and that it has to be able to be interpreted.

More are popping up all over Keene and a new series is coming out this year (Landen)!

Are temporary murals the new way for Keene to embrace art in the community? If they can’t make them permanent because most of the buildings in downtown Keene are protected by being the historic district then maybe this is the way around it! These temporary murals are sparking ideas throughout Keene and because they’re happening again this year I guess people liked them. Doris Sommer writes “Art reframes relationships and releases raw feelings that rub against convention” (50). As they pop up more and more and as they come back year after year the friction starts to die down. The same goes for the permanent pieces. The longer they are left up the chance people have to first accept them, second think about them, and third interact with them.

Keene’s Sister CityEinbeck Germany

Keene has a sister city in Einbeck Germany, Did you know that? I didn’t. The city of Keene even has a beautiful fountain or what most would call a piece of art, dedicated in recognition of their partnership. Like Keene, Einbeck is very old, even older than Keene. However unlike Keene street art is more widely used but that is not to see the people of Einbeck don’t go out of their way to protect their old beautiful city. Street art has in some ways turned into a part of the tourism for them.

I think the acceptance of these types of art for any country has to do with the stereotypes surrounding art or graffiti in their culture. Einbeck must be different from ours as many people seem to reject these types of public art throughout America and Keene in particular. As Doris Sommer puts it “Some vibrant examples are the tags that teens paint on public walls to provoke cities that may respond with mural contests and commissions rather than with repression”(48). It is all about how the society you live in chooses to respond to these acts. Are they accepting of them? Do they encourage them? Do they choose curation over repression?

From a more visual perspective if you take a look at this photo from Einbeck you see a lot of color involved in their old structures making it so that these colorful pieces of art kind of fit in. The buildings are artwork within themselves.


Art in the big city

What the city calls “The great wall of LA” at first glance looks to be modern, outspoken street art but in fact it is a series of events painted on this beautiful wall.

These events were chosen as some of the most important events in American history. They were chosen based off of the importance they played in interracial harmony. Through this art a story is told. It was started in 1974 and took five summers to finish and the creation of the wall employed over 400 youth and their families (“The”). Through this piece of art the city of LA and the history of its people is revealed.  Just like LA, Keenes history is shared in part through art,  for example the Parish Shoe sign.

One of the differences between how people interact with art here and how they do in the big city of LA is in part related to the fact that LA actually has an arts district. In Keene art and our historical district become intertwined. But the lack of recognized space for art is what keeps our art on the smaller side while LA flourishes with an abundance of it. Not to say that LA doesn’t have its own restrictions but ours are sometimes even more repressive. The city of Keene is very creative and embraces that but non curated art is for the most part frowned upon and would probably not last very long after its first public debut.

(An art share building….. the design was based off of women’s heels!!!

Works Cited

Landen, Xander. “Temporary Murals Again Springing up in Downtown Keene.” The Keene Sentinel, 25 Apr. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.

Sommer, Doris. The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities. Durham, N.C: Duke UP, 2014. Print.

“The Great Wall of Los Angeles.” SPARCinLA. Social And Public Art Resource Center, 2013. Web. 04 May 2017.

Pierce, Meghan. “Temporary Murals to Be Presented on Keene Buildings | New Hampshire.” Union Leader Corporation, 03 May 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

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