By Kara Hahn
I was delightfully surprised as I drove along Old Town Road in Setauket last week to discover the tree sages that later graced this paper’s July 30th cover. The intricate carvings left me in awe of the artist’s talent and skill. It left me wondering who had the vision for this wooden sculpture. What were his motives? It left me wondering why anyone would ever want to grind a tree stump again? Public displays of art — whether officially sponsored or created by private citizens — enhance and refine a community’s culture, character and charm.
We are a community defined by our history, renowned for our cultural arts institutions and beloved for our strong sense of place. Creativity is central to how we identify ourselves. Our landscape is full of beauty, both natural and purposefully fashioned; from stunning waterfront vistas to architectural masterpieces reflecting colonial heritage. Living up to our cultural legacy can be more than relying solely on what has already been made. We can continue to find new ways to augment that legacy, one creative project at a time adding to what amounts to our shared collection. We gain value through public art, not only by improving our aesthetics but by inspiring our imaginations. Public art invigorates and humanizes, it shapes a unique identity that acts as a beacon, attracting new visitors and potential new neighbors.
With growing fascination over “The Sages” could interest in public art installations continue to spread? Will spaces we pass every day without a second glance now been seen in a new light? Can we continue to break up the bland and transform the same into the memorable? Art that reflects and reveals our collective heart?
For the past several years, community leaders have discussed potential new locations for place-making, transformational works of art. Let’s come together to find ways to enhance our existing beauty, inject our unique identity and add meaning where aging infrastructure is an eyesore. Adding to our public collection will undoubtedly have a tangible impact on how we define ourselves. Let’s revisit conversations about the train trestle over Nicolls Road, the medians along Stony Brook Road and other spaces of possibility. We are blessed with an abundance of art expertise in institutions like Gallery North, the Long Island Museum, Reboli Center and others. Let’s have an open dialogue with residents and experts on increasing the presence of public art and bolstering our local artists and the art community.
The artistic and cultural influences present throughout our region have been central in defining who we are. On the eve of Gallery North’s annual Wet Paint Festival, we can all witness art as it is created, learn of its inspiration and marvel at the beauty left behind. Not only can we all celebrate unique installations like the “The Sages,” but we can make a conscious commitment to expand the visual intrigue of our community through public art. We will all be wealthier for it.
Kara Hahn is Suffolk County Legislator in the 5th District. She is also the deputy presiding officer of the legislature.