Volunteer Art in the Community

by | Feb 13, 2017

Kim O Hanlon St Helens article

How can we make our communities more creative? Sessions College Director of Admissions and Marketing Kimberly O’Hanlon believes in getting involved in community arts projects. When she moved to St. Helens, Oregon, last year, Kim was delighted to find a vibrant public arts scene there. Thanks to a voluntary, artist-driven Arts & Cultural Commission of St. Helens, art-making seems woven into the fabric of the town.

In February, Kim was appointed a Board member of the Commission. We talked to her about the art organization and its work.

Q: You mentioned it had been awhile since you had done volunteer work. Can you talk about your prior volunteering experience and about what community arts work means to you?

Establishing a meaningful connectivity with the community in which I live has always been important to me. Community art enhances the “soul” of a place. Art gives authenticity, enhancing local awareness and giving us pride in what makes each place and its people special.

My community involvement started all the way back in high school, when I established a branch of the National Art Honor Society. In Phoenix, I volunteered for programs that give to those who are in need, such as fixing bikes for people to have transportation to get to work, assembling toiletry kits, serving food, and harvesting fruit for food banks. When I found there was an opening for a volunteer board member for the St. Helens Arts and Cultural Commission, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to apply my graphic design degree and my experience in the community.

Q: Tell us about the Arts and Cultural Commission. What are its mission and goals? What are some examples of recent projects?

The mission of the St. Helens Arts and Cultural Commission is to encourage opportunities for recognition of art and culture in the city of St. Helens. The goal is to bring the community closer together, improve livability, give the town identity, and draw people in. The Commission also fosters arts engagement from small to large scale, art workshops, and community art events. Art classes are offered to get everyone excited to learn about art and about different cultures, and to be actively engaged in the community.

St Helens Arts Commission Public Art 1

The most notable recent project of the Arts and Cultural Commission is the Gateway Sculpture, created by Portland artist Suzanne Lee. The sculpture features two 22-foot tall metal obelisk lanterns with images representing the history, culture, and natural elements of St. Helens and its surrounding area. The sculpture was designed to create an inviting and attractive landmark to greet residents and travelers and mark the entrance to Columbia Boulevard, the city’s main street.

This project was funded by a percentage for art allocated from the city’s public works projects, and by Commission fundraisers, including two Sweetheart Balls and a Home Tour.

Q: Creating public art takes hard work and organization as well as talent. Projects need to be planned and developed with the input and approval of a community. What are some ways in which the community is involved?

The Arts and Cultural Commission is committed to making a meaningful outreach and public education a part of every public art project. Each work of art is supportive of the city’s vision and encourages cultural diversity.

When reviewing projects, the commission considers the historical, natural features, and the relationship to the existing architecture of the site. Each work of art should enhance the existing character of the site by taking into account scale, color, material, texture, content, and the social dynamics of the location. The citizens of the town will always have full access to the artwork created under the program.

Project proposals are generally be presented in one of two ways: a work of public art may be offered to the city as a gift or donation, or it will be commissioned or purchased by the city. All proposals are formally presented by the artist to the Arts and Cultural Commission. After that, a notice is given in a publication for general circulation in the city.  All nearby property owners are sent a written notice. Lastly, the commission votes on the recommendation, and then the project is approved by the city council.

St Helens Arts Commission Public Art 2

Q: What’s the first project you will be involved in? What excites you about it? What do you see as your specific contribution to the group?

The first project I’ll be involved in is a Branding and Wayfinding plan, an effort to draw visitors from the highway to the downtown riverfront district. I am very excited to be exposed to the planning behind creating a signage system that addresses the needs of all users, whether traveling by foot, bicycle, car, or transit.

That last meeting I attended was focused on gathering and synthesizing abstract feedback from the city staff and stakeholder members. We explored the visual identity of St. Helens, such as how it would be represented through elements, materials, patterns, colors, fonts, and overall symbology. This project will create a better connectivity with the Columbia River, one of the region’s most valuable assets. Once the project is finished, I am looking forward to seeing the outcome and economic development and growth for businesses on the riverfront district.

Q: People should visit St. Helens because: _____________.

It offers an authentic small town experience, with so many local talents! It is a bit of a slower pace from Portland, and offers wonderful river activities, like kayaking, fishing, hiking, and bird-watching. You may be interested to know that St. Helens is where the movie Halloweentown was filmed, and so the town celebrates the Spirit of Halloweentown the entire month of October. Parts of Twilight were also filmed here. There are many art enthusiasts here, and there is a pride in our natural and cultural history.

The St. Helens Arts & Cultural Commission encourages opportunities for recognition of art and culture in the community. Click here to view a video of their work. 

Sessions College is an online school of visual arts offering degree and certificate programs in Graphic Design, Web Design, Illustration, Photography, and more. Our online Fine Arts Certificate offers an excellent training in drawing and painting. To find out more, visit Admissions

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