As potential students take the walking tours across the Texas Tech campus, they may notice more than the bustling students and academic buildings.
The statue of Will Rogers and Soapsuds, the fountain carved to look like cupped hands beside the English building, the benches by Stangel/Murdough Hall made to look like grammatical colons and commas; these pieces are only a fraction of the Texas Tech University System Public Art collection.
Emily Wilkinson, the director for public art for the Tech University System, said former Chancellor John T. Montford’s wife, Debbie, had a passion for the arts and wanted to beautify Tech’s campus.
“She probably gets the most credit, as she was the program’s first supporter and creator,” Wilkinson said. “From 1998 to 2001, she raised the money for the program, and the System bought in part as well. Today, all of the pieces are valued at $13.4 million.”
Michael Molina, the vice chancellor for facilities planning and construction for the TTU System, said every building project on campus has funds set aside for public art.
“The money for public art is factored into the total construction budget, for enhancing art concepts and the area around the new building,” he said. “One percent is for the landscape plan, another one percent is for the public art, so two percent in total for the aesthetic impact of the new building. A lot of thought is put into the landscape as well, the spaces in between that are somewhat forgotten.”
Molina said there is also a public art committee for the program that works in tandem with the FP&C.
“We set aside money for art with every project, everything on campus, including new projects and renovations,” Wilkinson said. “But if a project’s budget is under $2 million, we don’t have to install art for it. As architects, we see each building having its own artistic expression.”
The public art committee assists the FP&C in making that artistic expression a reality, Molina said.
“It is a marriage between two entities, Facilities Planning and Construction and Emily and the public art committee,” he said. “We have separate inputs, multiple options and its collaborative.”
Wilkinson said there are 20 people on the committee, each related to Tech in some way, each serving for three years until they rotate off for new members.
“We have members from Lubbock, El Paso, Odessa, San Angelo, and members from Tech’s faculty and staff as well,” she said. “They are all art people, related to Texas Tech in some way, and they are pretty united. They see the project, where it is going, the context for the piece and the renderings by the artist.”
Jo Moore, the director of the Presidential Lecture and Performance series and current public art committee member, said the committee is the best she has ever worked on.
“There are about 15 to 20 of us at one time, all with divergent views except when it comes to art and culture,” she said. “We are with the projects from the inception, we know what the art will look like before everyone else knows. To watch that process and know that one percent is going to go towards art is amazing. It shows incredible foresight by the Board of Regents.”
Wilkinson said that unlike other college campuses, Texas Tech’s Spanish Renaissance architectural style is consistent for all the buildings, offering a unique backdrop for art installations.
“A good example would be the newer installation at the Rawls College of Business, the red trees,” she said. “The representative for the college wanted a piece that would emphasize the technology side of business, as the older piece, with the bull and the bear, represented finance.”
The newer installation, “Illuminated Arboreal Data Codes,” is made of aluminum and stainless steel, with each tree representing a communication circuit used in technology and business, according to the TTU System Public Art walking tour book, third edition. The four major text languages — Cuneiform, Morse code, Braille and Binary — were etched into the trees with quotes chosen by business school representatives.
But the process of creating another piece, from idea to final installation, is more streamlined. According to Wilkinson, the campus collection has been created by artists from all over the world.
“We have artists apply online through our website, and we get roughly 80 to 100 artists applications each time,” she said. “Texas Tech has a good reputation with artists, and they get recognition for working with Texas Tech. After the application period closes, the committee can go in and vote online. They look at works the artists have done in the past, any projects they have done with budgets. The normal budget for the art is anywhere between $20,000 and $260,000, very similar to other projects artists work with professionally.”
Moore said the committee can look at more than 100 art proposals for each installation, with budgets going up to $800,000.
“We cull it down from over 100 to the final list for the project,” she said. “As a committee, we discuss the concepts, the techniques, and what the representatives from the campus are interested in.”
“After the committee votes, we will have the top three to five finalists travel to campus, see where the art would go, and they give us a full proposal for the piece,” Wilkinson said. “Full scale models, sketches, and renderings. We also hold interviews where we ask the finalists about their ideas, how they work with a budget, as well as future maintenance of the piece.”
Molina said the future maintenance of the installation is factored into the construction budget as well.
“We have to have people on hand who are qualified to clean that substrate, all done in a very scientific way. In the collection we have everything from bronzes to textiles, and everything needs to be done right.”
Wilkinson said the final stage of the approval process goes through administration.
“The Chancellor and the President of the university that the art will be installed on give their final approval,” she said. “Any piece that represents an actual person will be looked at by the Board of Regents and approved, the committee will give their recommendation and the final signoff for the project.”
Another newer piece on campus is “Run,” installed at the new Texas Tech Athletics Sports Performance Center on campus.
“For ‘Run’ we had to place our trust in the artist, and they gave us renderings,” Molina said. “You had to have the model in front of you. It is a trafficked walkway, so it has that kinetic feel around the piece, and night lighting. What is interesting about the piece is that it represents a female track athlete, and it is not about football. The sports performance center has as much to do with track as football, and we wanted the building to be represented by that.”
Molina also said the artist’s original concept was with a male track athlete, but changed it to a female subject after visiting campus and talking with the committee.
“The artist modeled the piece after our women’s track team, and it has many different views, or nodes from whichever viewpoint you have of it,” he said. “It is a statement.”
Wilkinson said the effect of the public art program has been felt not only on Tech campus in Lubbock, but on the other campuses in the system as well.
“The program has a solid future. It shows the commitment to our campus,” she said. “It is the only program with system wide communication and it is united throughout. The collection makes our campus unique. And we’re still adding to it.”