As part of the recently amended Public Art Ordinance, which increased the annual percentage of public art funding from 1% to 1.5% of all Capital Improvement Projects, the Salt Lake City Public Art Program is focusing a portion of those funds on increased efforts for maintenance, long-term care, and restoration of our permanent collection.
The city’s extensive public art collection includes numerous kinds of artworks—from sculptures to murals and even artist-designed bike racks – in various mediums, such as steel, concrete, neon, and many more. These artworks are located in parks and public buildings, skate parks, recreation centers, sidewalks, city streets, and plazas in all seven Council Districts that make up Salt Lake City.
The Public Art Program worked with a professional conservator and developed a detailed conservation assessment of our public art permanent collection. Not only do these maintenance recommendations help maintain the aesthetic integrity of our many artworks, they also provide the Public Art Program with an opportunity to carefully assess an artwork’s existing materials or fabrication methods and ensure their long-term sustainability. These maintenance efforts are also a learning opportunity for our Program as they help us better prepare and mitigate for any future problems in the design and/or construction of newly commissioned artworks. Out of the 150 artworks that were assessed, two stand out as noteworthy examples of our recent conservation work and provide insight into the multi-pronged efforts that goes into the care of each artwork.
Fire House Fire by Ben Jones and Carey Stevens Jones
In 1990, the Salt Lake City Public Art Program commissioned artists Ben Jones and Carey Stevens Jones to create a site-specific sculpture that was integrated into the façade of Fire Station #10 in the Research Park neighborhood. The original artwork, Fire House Fire, was fabricated using traditional neon technology.
Over the years, this piece was frequently damaged—primarily due to exposure to the elements—and its light-technology worked intermittently. In an effort to increase the artwork’s longevity and preserve a unique light-based sculpture in our collection, the Public Art Program and the Art Design Board made a decision to conserve the artwork by refabricating in a more sustainable way.
The historic sign company YESCO, which created the original sculpture in 1990, was tasked with the artwork’s refabrication. Working with Salt Lake City’s Fire Department and the original engineering drawings from the artwork’s commission, the Public Art Program led an effort to reinstall Fire House Fire utilizing modern LED neon technology, which is more durable, resistant, and provides for a more environmentally friendly artwork. The process to design and refabricate this sculpture took several months and reinstallation was completed in August 2022. Although the technology behind Fire House Fire has changed, the overall aesthetic appearance of the artwork remains true to the artist’s original intent.
Deadly Virtues by Douglas Soelberg
In 2002, prolific Utah County glass artist Douglas Soelberg was commissioned by the Public Art Program to create site-specific artwork for the newly renovated Justice Courts Building in Downtown Salt Lake City. The resulting artwork, Deadly Virtues, is an exquisite multi-piece stained-glass window located directly above the front entrance of the building. This artwork has been favorite of the Courts Building staff since its installation.
Deadly Virtues suffered considerable damage in 2020 and the removal of several broken glass panels took place shortly thereafter. The Public Art Program engaged with the original artist to refabricate and reinstall these portions of the artwork and worked towards a plan that kept the original artwork unchanged or as close to the original as possible.
The process for reinstallation involved close collaboration between the artist, staff at the Courts Building, and the Public Art Program. Some of the components, colors, and materials necessary for this large piece had to be shipped from specialized glass suppliers outside of the United States and COVID-related industry supply shortages impacted the refabrication timeline. Successful re-installation of this artwork was completed earlier this summer.
These artworks are just two out of many that have been repaired and restored in the last year thanks to the increased maintenance funding our Program receives, which would not be possible without the generous support from the Mayor’s Office and the City Council. The Public Art Program is grateful for this investment towards the cultural landscape of our city. These artworks represent a wide range of social, cultural, and historical values and characteristics of our city and we are thrilled to be able to steward these incredible community assets for years to come.
To learn more about these maintenance efforts and the Salt Lake City Public Art Program, be sure to follow our Instagram @slc_publicartprogram.