BELFAST — Both visitors and residents of Belfast have been treated to the artwork and comfort featured in this year’s public art installation, “Please, Be Seated!” The chairs and benches were created by a wide array of artists in the area who submitted plans to Our Town Belfast – the organization responsible for the display – in hopes of having their designs chosen for display.
“We had more submissions this year than ever before,” said Breanna Pinkham Bebb of Our Town Belfast. “We accept designs based on funding, and fortunately this year we were able to accept almost all of the designs.”
The submissions consisted of rough sketches of the artist’s vision. “It’s always interesting to see how the proposal comes together as an actual bench or chair,” said Pinkham Bebb.
The criteria for acceptance is fairly simple, according to Elaine Bielenberg, who oversees the project. “The designs must meet basic criteria of safety, durability, practicality and family-friendly themes,” she said.
Art in the streets is nothing new to Belfast, before Please Be Seated!, artistic bears lined the streets as a part of Belfast Bearfest, which occurred successfully for three successive summers, said Bielenberg. Eventually, she said, “A group of enthusiastic citizens wanted to see the sidewalks and parks filled with interactive structures and sculptures.” This effort led to multiple installations by Cy Klausmeyer, including the Ornithopter, which can still be seen near the Chocolate Drop Candy Shop.
The one problem with the earlier interactive downtown art installations, said Bielenberg, was that the premise limited accessibility to those who were mechanically inclined. “The benches and chairs expanded the opportunities for others to submit proposals,” she said.
The chairs and benches, as with Belfast Bearfest and other installations downtown, serve not only as a way to show visitors local talent, but also as a way to encourage exploration of the business area.
While volunteers are a key component of the event, donation of hours to both the administrative process and the actual installation of the pieces was important and Bielenberg said the city of Belfast deserves substantial recognition. “I want to recognize [the city of Belfast’s] generosity and cooperation in supporting public art and artists. The city assists not only by funding the project [every year], but also allowing the art installation on the sidewalks and in parks,” said Bielenberg.
This year’s chairs and benches, which began appearing in June, will stay up for just a few more days, but those reluctant to see them go are in luck: eleven of the works are currently up for auction - and bids will be accepted until Sept. 13. All proceeds raised by the auction will go directly back into the fund to support next year’s installation.
Erica Thoms can be reached at email@example.com.