The Possibilities of Public Art

Walk into 75 Morton, a public school in Greenwich Village, and you’ll see a hallway mural splashed with geometric shapes in bright colors. The artist, Lehman College Professor Dannielle Tegeder, says it’s a “response” to New York City. “The architecture, the subways, traffic — all that inspires me,” she said in an interview. “I love Miro, I love Paul Klee, I love Mondrian. It fits into abstraction, modernism — and maybe also urban planning.”

Tegeder comes from a family of steamfitters, which helped shaped her aesthetics and perspective. “Steamfitters in New York do all the blueprints and planning for all the inner architecture of a building, all the engineering, plumbing, and heating,” she explained, adding that she grew up looking at blueprints.

Artist Dannielle Tegeder

The school mural, called Systems on the Move, is one of four pieces Tegeder completed in 2018 for public or corporate settings, including one in the lobby of Facebook’s Manhattan headquarters. Tegeder is proud that the school piece was funded as a federal public art project, just like the famous artworks commissioned by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, which decorate schools and government sites all over the country.

Tegeder notes that artists are often told, “You can never make it.” Yet public or quasi-public art projects offer many opportunities for working artists. “Public art is huge,” she said, adding that she uses her own experiences to ask students: “What are the possibilities and opportunities for you working as an artist or as an arts administrator?”

Tegeder's mural hanging at MS 297
Mural hanging in the entryway of MS 297

Tegeder has also turned her office at Lehman into a gallery. “I’ve seen Manhattan galleries with less space,” she said with a laugh. She curates themed shows with work by students, alumni, and others, and hosts proper openings for artists and guests. “I really use it as a tool, to bring art into the Bronx and also just to test the notion that everything has to go into a fancy gallery,” she said. “Just looking around you as an artist, how do you think out of the box and use the spaces around you?”

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