More Public Art for the Arts District?

Photo of "Waiting for the Interurban" by Flickr user Xurxo Martínez.

Photo of “Waiting for the Interurban” by Flickr user Xurxo Martínez.

The Arts District could get a little more public art thanks to the city of Riverdale Park.

Frustrated by the continuing vacancy of a former gas station, the city is considering using eminent domain to take the property and turn it into a public park and sculpture garden, according to the Riverdale Park Patch.

The property is at the corner of Baltimore Avenue and Madison Street, just north of one of the new Palette Apartment buildings.

Although the property is only about a quarter of an acre, it’s more than large enough for a piece of art that would help define the quickly redeveloping neighborhood, plus a few benches and some plants.

To make it work, the city will need to follow a few simple rules:

* Avoid boring art. Cities often go with “safe” pieces that avoid offense but fail to inspire any positive reactions either. (Think of the life-sized statues of Alex Haley reading to children in Annapolis, a particularly anodyne way of commemorating a slave market.)

* Make a statement. With such a small space, it’s better to go big on one piece of art that will serve as a landmark. (A good example is the Mitt sculpture at Safeco Field in Seattle, which has become a common meeting place before baseball games.)

* Design it to be touched. With a school across the street and apartments nearby, kids will try to climb on any sculptures there. Embrace that. (Think of the sculpture of a giant at National Harbor or any of several pieces at Chicago’s Millennium Park.)

So what should the city do? There are a number of possibilities. A large piece of abstract art that’s designed to be played on. A nod to area resident Jim Henson or the old streetcar line. Or just some tall shady trees and some places to sit.

For our part, the Hyattsville Wire can’t help but think of Seattle’s “Waiting for the Interurban,” an outdoor sculpture that commemorates the city’s long-dismantled streetcar system. Something about the piece inspires residents to decorate it. (The local Chamber of Commerce even has guidelines for doing so.) It’s accessible, it’s fun and it marks a piece of local history.

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