Art in the Clouds

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Recently I flew the friendly skies, heading to Seattle for a few days. It was everything I expected. We were crammed in our seats. The plane was dirty. The flight attendants offered sodas -- for a price. We hit delays and flew standby with no assurance that we would get home until three days after our ticketed arrival date. In short, it was kind of a mess, and the ticket wasn't particularly a bargain either.

With all that time waiting for our delayed flight, my friend and I moseyed around the airport. We had a lot of time to explore. With the expense of flying nowadays, I got to thinking about who is holed up in these airports waiting to get near and far. How long are they there and what type of mood are they in? Are air travelers of today armed with any more time and education in order to afford the trip to and from their destination stop? Are they more anxious to fly post 9/11? Are they more patient or exasperated with the wait due to the lines and procedures at the security check points? Are the passengers of 2014 looking for something more than safe, clean and efficient transportation from Point A to Point B? And is the airport the next spot for art to expose itself to the people waiting to leave on a jet plane?

Airport art isn't restricted to the Circle City; "Traveling Light" by Linda Beaumont is just one of the artworks at the SEA-TAC Airport in Seattle. - SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
  • Seattle International Airport
  • Airport art isn't restricted to the Circle City; "Traveling Light" by Linda Beaumont is just one of the artworks at the SEA-TAC Airport in Seattle.

Airport officials have reported that after the 2001 terrorist attacks, more attention was funneled to art in terminals. New security requirements often leave travelers more frazzled and force them to spend more time at airports. The American Association of Airport Executives holds an annual meeting of airport art program officials. The association was desperate to make the experience of flying calmer and more enjoyable for passengers, and art has made a difference. In addition, as I read up on the relatively new phenomena of art (and I mean some top-cellar stuff!) in airports, I learned that urban beautification efforts in cities have created ordinances that often require from 1 to 2 percent of public-building construction budgets to be spent on art. And since airport terminals are usually very expensive projects, airports end up buying major installations, and much of a city's public art budget winds up at the airport.

At our own Indianapolis Airport there are 36 permanent pieces produced by 17 artists and six poets. The large pieces dot the landscape and provide parameters to the airy and open grand spaces. Local artists are emphasized, and it is some good stuff. I wonder if some of what is in our and other airports are considered Plop Art, where the large installations are purely decorative rather than in proportion to and in context of what surrounds it. The Sea-Tac Airport might have what one might consider Plop Sound, but there is no question that it fits the Northwest airport and Northwest music scene.

Just outside the Sea-Tac Airport's Sub Pop Store where shoppers can buy a Nirvana keychain and a Soundgarden coffee mug, my friend and I spent an hour watching a small group called The Side Project play some music. The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's Experience the City of Music Program is a cooperative effort by the Port of Seattle, the Office of Film plus Music, Seattle Music Commission and PlayNetwork to showcase the Northwest region's diverse music culture and enhance the experience of millions of travelers who pass through this airport each year. Through this program, bands such as The Side Project offer free performances seven days a week and overhead music by Northwest artists is played throughout the terminals. There are videos featuring clips about Seattle's music scene and history on terminal and baggage claim monitors along with multi-genre Web radio available through the airport's free Wi-Fi Network. I even heard Jerry Cantrell of Alice of Chains remind me not to smoke in undesignated areas. Bummer, Dude.

Art is good. Music is great. And to have both in a place where there are restless folks trying to get where they need to be has to be a good thing. We are a captive audience with time to spare. For the traveler with a connecting flight, walking around our airport with a Starbuck's and a guide of the art installations may lead to someone thinking a bit differently about our state and its artistic savviness. It also may do what it did for me in Seattle. I walked away with a new CD and the curiosity to find out more about a three-piece group we heard in the middle of the terminal. But the practical and economic self wants the next thing: How about we work on the art of a safe, clean and efficient flight, which will make the airport experience a true art form?

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