AUSTIN—A piece of trash droops over a stone structure, crumpled and damp from the rain the night before. After someone tosses off the garbage, the guide announces with a laugh that the structure is, in fact, the next piece of art on the tour.
Jamie Aprile has been leading tours of the public art on the University of Texas campus since last October. She doesn’t shy away from the occasional piece of trash. During her time as a docent of the Landmarks program, she has seen everything from offensive graffiti scrawls to students using the flat, stone structure as a bench.
“Sometimes you will see students lounging on this piece, not knowing it is art. But that’s okay. It was meant to be interacted with,” said Aprile, a lecturer in the classics department at UT.
Landmarks, a program created in 2008 to incorporate public art into the daily lives of the UT community, offers docent-led tours on the first Sunday of every month.
The program began with a long-term loan of 28 modern sculptures from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It continues to gain new modern art installations every year.
Landmarks works to foster an educational relationship between the art and the viewers who pass it every day. The staff hopes to create a “campus-wide classroom” and prevent the art from simply blending into the surroundings.
Catherine Zinser, the Education Coordinator for the program, said that there are boundaries that keep some students from connecting with modern art.
“I think a lot of the pieces require time to not only look at them, but to go to our website or a tour to really understand,” Zinser said.
Deborah Wise, a staff member in the College of Communication who was a part of the most recent tour, said that she gained a whole new perspective on the aesthetics of the campus.
“I love the placement of each piece. It is obvious the time and care that went into it. It seems like the pieces were always meant to be right where they are,” Wise said.
For instance, an intimate sculpture titled “Eleanor at 7:15” by Willard Boepple sits in the secluded courtyard in between Mezes and Batts halls. “Square Tilt” by Joel Perlman, contributes to the angular architecture in front of the PCL Library. “Circle with Towers” by Sol LeWitt, sits out in front of the Computer Science building, representing the series of ones and zeros that are the building blocks of computer science.
Aprile said that when people become aware of the meaning attached to the location and placement of each piece, they see the surrounding buildings in a whole new light.
“The Computer Science Department has become very involved in the program. They have started using “Circle with Towers” in their branding and on their t-shirts,” Aprile said.
“From the education standpoint, the most rewarding thing is seeing how the collection is starting to show up in classrooms across campus and in projects,” Zinser said. “Not just art students, but engineering students and journalism students across campus are using the collection.”
Landmarks tries to incorporate the art into student life specifically through its student docent program.
Zinser said the program originally was student driven, served to enhance art students’ degrees and give them touring and teaching experience. But after some years of “ebb and flow” in the program, many of the original student docents graduated, leaving only faculty and staff volunteers.
Landmarks is currently reworking the docent program to invite more students, as was originally intended. Applications for this upcoming academic year are due at the end of the week.
Students also have the opportunity to work with conservationists to protect the art from the damaging environment. Or as Aprile puts it, “the winds of passersby—that is, vandalism or destruction.”
Despite this constant battle with garbage, graffiti or general unawareness of the pieces, Landmarks presses on to educate the UT community about the art surrounding them.
“It is a part of their daily environment, and they are seeing that and recognizing that,” Zinser said. “It is showing up their work, and that is exactly what we were hoping for.”