The gigantic theater whose walls are now rising above Sandy Springs’ Roswell Road at City Springs is a monument to the importance of the arts in the city’s vision for its new downtown. But it’s just the most visible part of a bigger arts plan.

Two city committees are helping to create a comprehensive public art program for City Springs, both inside the future City Hall complex and outdoors in its park spaces. Art Sandy Springs, which helped to bring the city its well-regarded Playable Art Park, is planning an annual international sculpture competition to display fine art at City Springs, some of which could later move to other public sites.

Sandy Springs city officials, councilmembers and Mayor Rusty Paul, back, visited the construction site of City Springs on Aug. 12, taking stock of the project’s progress. Ennis Parker, bottom left, professor of engineering at Georgia Tech, led the group on a tour of the performing arts center’s future balcony seating area. (Photo Phil Mosier)

“This should be the home, the emotional home, [and] the conduit of how we introduce public art to the city,” said Cheri Morris of Arts Sandy Springs, describing the outdoor part of the City Springs art plan at the Aug. 2 City Council meeting. The program, she said, will seek to “amplify the role” of City Springs as a major arts center.

“I think you’re going to be very pleased with this once all the pieces are pulled together,” said Mayor Rusty Paul, who arranged the arts advisory committees.

Morris is shepherding the outdoor sculpture program, while city communications director Sharon Kraun is leading the indoor art plan, which also must work hand-in-hand with signage and city memorabilia displays.

“There’s not a specific art gallery in City Springs…but there are spaces that lend themselves to public art,” said Kraun.

Among those working on the interior art plan at the mayor’s request are representatives from Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church’s Ventulett Gallery, which hosts a variety of secular art exhibits.

City Springs is the city’s $220 million mixed-use redevelopment combining a new City Hall with a performing arts center, parks, housing and retail space. It’s scheduled to be complete in late December 2017.

The 1,000-seat performing arts center is planned as a key economic generator for City Springs and has drawn significant planning attention. The city recently signed a management company contract and is in the process of hiring a general manager to start booking shows.

But art exhibits are seen as an important part of City Springs’ success as well. “We’re looking at both the inside and outside for ways to showcase [art],” said Kraun.

The interior stage area of the future performing arts center at City Springs as seen during the Aug. 12 tour. (Photo Phil Mosier)

Morris said Art Sandy Springs has been involved in planning the outdoor sculpture displays for a year. The advisory group aims to have a formal proposal ready for City Council review by November, she said.

The City Springs concept is similar to the way Art Sandy Springs helped to curate the Art Park within the Abernathy Greenway. That collection of interactive sculptures, created by the Sandy Springs Conservancy with a Northside Hospital grant, was juried by Art Sandy Springs. It opened in 2014 after being selected by experts and focus groups from 140 submissions from artists in 11 different countries, Morris said.

In City Springs’ public spaces, the concept is an annual juried show of sculptures, with about 10 winners on display for a year and one or two kept as permanent artwork until the site fills up. The other works might be offered to other public sites around town, such as libraries.

“The program we’re working on will benefit not only Sandy Springs…We can put [artworks] around the city,” said Kraun.
Morris said the goal is to “bring really fine art…We do look for diversity. We look for high quality.” Likewise, she would aim for the jurors to include sculpture experts from such institutions as the High Museum of Art, the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Savannah College of Art and Design.

The fountains and outdoor furniture, such as benches, should be seen as art opportunities as well, Morris said, adding that they could be “elevated beyond what a commercial designer might do.”

Heritage Sandy Springs, the historic and cultural nonprofit, has discussed tentative plans for a “Heritage Trail” of historic markers on the City Springs site. Kraun said that it still just a concept that could be added later and is not part of the current arts planning.

Construction underway at the City Springs site, with underground parking in the background, Aug. 12. (Photo Phil Mosier)

As for the interior, Kraun and the advisory committee are identifying spaces, such as lobbies, that could be suitable for public art.

It’s not just about looking at blueprints. The goal is to build proper features, such as lighting, into the spaces ahead of time to make them suitable for art exhibits.

The city also has to figure out how exhibits coordinate with other displays, like branding and wayfinding signs, portraits of elected officials and assorted memorabilia currently hanging in City Hall or displayed in trophy cases.

“It’s looking at everything we have and [deciding], ‘Where does it go in the new building? Should it go in the new building?’” Kraun said.

Besides choosing where to put art in City Springs, how the city chooses it is another important policy decision. Public art can be controversial as it tries to combine artistic vision with representing the entire community—and with First Amendment free speech rights applying to government decisions.

Kraun said the city is already working on a policy to determine, “How are things selected? What are the rules of the road?…It will be a formal program.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.