Get That Commission: Lynn Basa On Going Public

Lynn's installation “Grove” in Claremont, California.

Lynn Basa’s installation, “Grove,” in Claremont, California.

Lynn Basa knows a thing or two about making art in public. The painter, sculptor and former instructor at the the School of the Art Institute of Chicago centers her practice around public commissions—colorful mosaics that cover schools, parks, bus stops, or movie theaters. On June 29, she will lead Demystifying Public Art, a webinar focused on all aspects of researching and applying for public art commissions for visual artists. We had the chance to talk with Lynn about her current work, how to reach out to your local government, and why artists should buy their buildings.

Ana Cecilia Alvarez: We hear you’ve been busy with some new public art projects. Tell us what you’ve been working on recently?
Lynn Basa: I’m beginning a public art commission for the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana for a residence hall named after a Native American alum, Wassaja, who had been kidnapped in 1871 and sold to an itinerant photographer who raised him. He was accepted to the University of Illinois at age 14 and graduated from medical school.  I’m telling the story of his life metaphorically through monumental basket-shaped sculptures that are connected by a meandering path. I also just finished a private commission for the lobby of a Chicago sky scraper, which resulted from the client seeing other mosaic work I had done for public art commissions. Finally, in the storefront of my studio, I have a space called Corner where I host month-long residencies of artists whose practices have an aspect of social-engagement.
Ana: Your work in public art has led you to be involved in your local art policy-making committees. What kind of relationship should artists, especially those interested in public art, have with their local governments?
Lynn: Being active in civic life is so important because artists aren’t always included in government agencies and policy-making. To other artists, I’d say, take the opportunity to introduce yourself to local politicians and representatives. Get to know your community—the businesses and the people. There are a lot of misconceptions about artists—by getting out there they can see that artists are not exotic but rather contributing members to the community with shared concerns. Artists also have ideas for community projects that other people don’t have, and have specific policy concerns, such as zoning for live/work spaces.
Ana: The 2016 class of Creative Capital grantees noted that they want more education and guidance on how to acquire real estate. Why do you think its important for artists to invest in real estate?
Lynn: It’s one of the few ways I know of for artists to build equity and to fortify themselves against dislocation and gentrification. It’s much harder to be an artist than a property owner. And artists aren’t afraid to take a risk in properties that the average buyer wouldn’t even consider because the properties don’t have granite countertops or are not located in a ‘sanitized’ neighborhood. Once you get over the brainwashing that artists aren’t meant to participate in the economy, you might find that it’s more within reach than you thought. There are so many ways to acquire real estate and, I hate to sound like an ad, but, given how low interests rates are, now is a really good time!
Want to learn more? Don’t miss your opportunity to spend more time with Lynn in her June 29th webinar, Demystifying Public Art.

More Interviews