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It's Your Art: Be Part of Art pushes to keep up Bend's creative reputation 

Bend's public art campaign gets a boost from Be Part of Art.

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Driving in circles could be maddening. It could be nauseating, actually. But on a recent Thursday afternoon, Jody Ward is instructing her friend and fellow Art in Public Places board member Cristy Lanfri to continue driving in circles. Just a couple more times, she says, pointing to the center of a roundabout on Newport Avenue, describing in great detail the background of a sculpture - titled "Bueno Homage to Buckaroo" - its artist, Danae Bennet-Miller, and how it's one of the newer pieces of public art in Bend.

Ward knows a thing or two about art in Bend. Back in the late 1960s, Ward and some other community members came together to bring some more culture to what was then a relatively barren creative landscape.

"There were no art galleries, no traveling art shows. I was a young mom and wanted to have these opportunities for our kids and the rest of the town," says Ward after our tour of only a third or so of Bend's 40-plus public art installations that range from our iconic roundabout sculptures to paintings in public buildings.

All of these pieces we've been looking at for a good chunk of the morning are owned by the city as part of the nonprofit Art in Public Places program. Currently, the program is in the middle of a fundraising campaign called Be Part of Art, a drive aimed at not just educating residents about their impressive amount of public art - valued at more than $1.5 million (or more, considering the subjective value of artistic creations) - but also reminding folks that this is, as Lanfri put it, "their art."

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The goal of the Be Part of Art project is to raise $500,000 in donations before the fall, hopefully by October. If such an amount is raised, The Bend Foundation, a philanthropic organization established by Brooks Resources, will match the donations with another $500,000, meaning there would suddenly be a million dollars on hand for public art in Bend. The matching grant has been on the table since 2007, but the economic downturn hit soon after and stalled the flow of donations. The Bend Foundation then extended the time frame of the grant through 2012, but Be Part of Art is looking to reach their fundraising goal long before that.

The Be Part of Art campaign is a far more focused push to raise the money and Art in Public Places has found allies in local artistic groups as well as TBD Advertising, the Bend-based agency that has become a major supporter of cultural events in the city. The end result, Ward and company hope, will be the continuation of Bend's standing as a steward of a sizable and high-quality collection of public art. Compared to other towns of similar population, Ward says Bend's public art is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.

"Nobody can touch us with a 10-foot pole," says Ward of Bend's amount of public art and reputation as a creative hub before she looks down at the route she's mapped out for our morning art tour and declares the next destination.

This collection, all of which has been donated to the city of Bend, has not popped up over night. While many pieces, including the roundabout art, came about in the past decade, the first installments donated by Art in Public Places were placed in 1977. Other pieces, including the iconic man on the bench sculpture at Wall Street and Franklin Avenue and the impressive brick carvings outside of city hall and the massive arches on the Bend Parkway were placed during the 1980s and 90s, serving as reminders of the city's history, which was rapidly being overshadowed by massive growth.

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Now, Lanfri says, Bend's public art collection has grown to the point that it's become a tourist attraction. When we stop to take a look at the brick carvings at city hall, John Flannery, the owner of the GETIT Shuttle, was in the middle guiding a pair of visitors on an art tour. Flannery's often-hilarious tours take riders through the roundabouts and other locations of public art in the city. There is also talk of Visit Bend developing a self-guided art tour similar in form to the already popular Bend Ale Trail.

Yes, it's public art, but your tax dollars don't pay for these installations. The program is, again, fueled by donations and grants. Nevertheless, the program has long encountered the perception that the pieces are a drain on the city budget that's been already strained.

"Every time we do a new installment, there are a few letters to the editor complaining about it," Lanfri says.

You might not have paid for the art out of your paycheck, but it's your art, Ward says.

"People don't feel like they own this, but they do," says Ward.

To learn more about the Be Part of Art campaign or the Art in Public Places program, visit bepartofart.org or facebook/beparofartbend. For a complete list of Bend's public art installations, visit artinpublicplaces.org.

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