To the casual observer, the metal rods and concrete spheres that comprise the centerpiece of Nancy Holt’s installation at Dark Star Park seem little more than an odd vignette of fallen stars. But at precisely 9:32 am every August 1st, the shadows cast from this collection of elements aligns perfectly with the corresponding shapes in the ground, as a commemoration of the date in 1860 when Henry Ross acquired the land on which the park sits, in the neighborhood that bears his name.

by Liz Georges

It was the multi-faceted nature of Holt’s installation, as well as the unprecedented level to which the work was integrated into plans for the surrounding buildings, that made Dark Star Parka groundbreaking work in public art, and a fitting choice for Arlington County as its first major public art commission in 1979.

For Angela A. Adams, Arlington County Public Art Administrator, the project remains a benchmark against which other public art projects are evaluated. “It was the guiding spirit in writing the goals of our Public Art Policy, which talks about an integrated approach to public art in terms of our architecture, parks and infrastructure. We continue to aspire to do projects that are of the caliber of Dark Star Park, and it continues to challenge us to work at that level.”

Integration and partnership are recurring themes when Adams talks about the projects she’s working on, and what she hopes they will achieve. Ultimately, she views her role as helping her County colleagues and private developers and other working partners to realize the role public art plays in good civic design and placemaking. “We work closely with planners, engineers, design professionals and project managers to really truly understand what the needs and constraints of the project are, so that our recommendations fit within the tolerances of that project – how fast it needs to be delivered, the budget, and the needs of the community.”

Artists wanting to get involved in public art, according to Adams, face a challenge because of the collaborative nature of the work. “We really need a lot from the artist in terms of previous experience and knowledge working as a member of a design team with other design professionals,” she says. Being able to convey their ideas effectively to project engineers and other design professionals, even the ability to read plans and do computer-assisted drawing are some of the skills artists need to effectively function as part of the team. “We tend to be looking for artists who can bring design problem solving to the table, using their skills as artists.”

Adams refers to the Wave Arbor sculpture by San Francisco artist Doug Hollis recently installed as part of Arlington’s new Long Bridge Park as an example of how an artist’s contribution can really enhance a project. Phase 1 of the park will open to the public on Saturday, November 5th, with a dedication ceremony at 11 am. Long Bridge, when completed, will convert the former industrial area into a park that will feature an aquatic center, playing fields, a water retention rain garden and an esplanade along a portion of Route 1 that has gorgeous views of Washington’s memorials. “We feel that Doug’s contribution in Wave Arbor is a way of making a really nice park design even better. It provides vertical marking to what is largely a horizontal project, and it responds to the site, by capturing the movement of the wind and changes in sunlight. There’s also a solar capturing element that will power LED lights on the sculpture at night,” Adams says. “The artwork adds drama and distinction.”

When it’s working right, the spaces that are created “mark where civic facilities are in a way that makes people feel first of all, oriented, and second of all, proud of where they are,” Adams says. Given that Arlington continues to grow, becoming more densely populated, enhancing that sense of community becomes even more important. “Each of these projects is an opportunity to make our civic places, our streets, buildings, and our infrastructure as enjoyable as possible.”

Come hear Angela A. Adams, as well as art consultant Jean Efron, artist Margaret Boozer and architect Valerie Hassett discuss the making of public art on November 2, 2011 at the Baltimore Convention Center, 2-3pm. “Public Art: Fitting a Team Together” will be presented in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Interior Design Association as part of WPA’s “No Artist Left Behind” program. To attend the panel, please email an RSVP to Liz Georges at

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October 20, 2011