How to see lots of public art in an hour? Take USF’s free Public Art Tours

You don't have to be a college student to explore public art on USF's campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota-Manatee.

Anyone is welcome to visit the University of South Florida's impressive collection of public art throughout its three campuses, with the bulk of the art on the main and biggest campus in Tampa.

Visitors can find the pieces by following a Public Art Guide map published by the USF Public Art Program of the Institute for Research in Art in the College of The Arts or sign up for a free tour offered by staff members. The Guide is available online and also as a folding brochure similar to an old-fashioned roadmap. The brochure has been distributed both on- and off-campus at various locations including the information center at the Fowler Avenue entrance to the Tampa campus, the Marshall Student Center, and various hotels in the surrounding area.
 
“The public art on campus tends to beautify these spaces and becomes a creative placemaking gesture, giving people landmarks to meet on campus while functioning as an educational tool,'' says Sarah Howard, USF’s Curator of Public Art and Social Practice. "Many people don’t explore other parts of campus, so this program gets people out there looking and talking about the works while getting to know the geography of the campus.''

Howard says one of the main tenets of the program is that each piece of art relates to the facilities that it is located near, such as theater, engineering, or biosciences, etc.

“Most of the works do that, and they have some sort of research element to them so if you look a little more, you can find out more about the world we’re living in,” says Howard.
 
The USF collection of public art was selected as one of the Top 10 university public art collections by Public Art Review in 2006. As a way to make the community aware of the collection and add some context to the works, USF started a series of free guided Public Art Walking Tours in 2015.

Because there are more than 30 pieces to explore, the hour-long tours cover different districts on campus, making it worth taking a few tours. Howard schedules tours the are open to the public at least once a semester and can schedule special tours for individual groups as well. The map posted on the USF website has route suggestions for self-guided jaunts.
 
While private funding adds to the resources needed to commission works, most of the public art collection is part of Florida’s Art in State Buildings Program (ASB) founded in 1979, where .5% of construction appropriation is reserved for permanent art to be displayed in state buildings. Because the ASB Program funds these works, they also pick the artists with a selection team comprised of representatives from all of the buildings involved as well as people in the community. Most artists are added to the pool by nomination, but there are a few open calls.
 
The next public art piece will be installed next to the USF Morsani College of Medicine in downtown Tampa. Jim Campbell is the artist selected for this location in a three-way collaboration with USF, developer Strategic Property Partners, and the City of Tampa. The artwork will be completed in 2021 in the plaza outside the new med school, where Campbell will be collaborating with landscape architects for a water feature. Campbell is mostly known for his low-res video projections and installations, so this is a new format for him.
 
“The gem of our collection is Nancy Holt’s Solar Rotary since it engages the sun as part of its media. Holt described this as one of her most successful works because it tapped into the historic and cultural markers of the state. A lot of research and calculations make it a phenomenal experience, and it’s common to see people interacting and engaging with the work.

"We’ve managed to amass quite a stellar collection on all three campuses. We’re just happy to have people come visit,” Howard says.
 
To find out more or schedule a group tour, visit USF’s Public Art Program and USF’s Public Art Map.
 

Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website.
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