Josephine Reed: When the Mayors' Institute on City Design began in 1986, Adele Chatfield Taylor was the director of the Design Division at the National Endowment for the Arts. Although she now heads the American Academy in Rome, Adele took some time recently to recall the thinking that went into the creation of the Mayor's Institute on City Design.
Adele Chatfield Taylor: Joe Riley, the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, who still is mayor, he wrote a letter that laid out why he thought mayors did not get enough briefing, if you want to put it that way, on design when they come into office, that they get whisked away the minute the election is over, generally to the Kennedy School. And there they have workshops on diseases and poverty and homelessness and all kinds of problems that they will be facing as mayors, but nothing on design. And as we all know, every time you repave a street or build a fence or give a permit for a new bridge to be built, you're designing something. You're making an impact. And Joe was extremely aware of this, from his own experience. And the second thing he was aware of is how much every detail mattered, not just the big bridges that were going to be built over the rivers, but the color of the mortar joint when you re-laid a brick sidewalk. So a kind of rule of thumb we gave ourselves was that we should prove with every move we made that design was a part of life, that there's some art forms you can avoid if you want to. Let's say you can't stand opera. You can avoid opera; you could your whole life if you wanted to. But you can't avoid design. It's what gives form to a newspaper, to a stop sign, to a street, to a baseball stadium. I mean, take your pick, to your clothes, to the uniforms of your police force. Can't be avoided. So the thing to do is realize that quality of design works better than bad design, that bad design can give you traffic jams, or a stadium that's in the wrong part of town, or a poor section of town that can't be reintegrated with the rest, that it matters on every single move you make, so that Joe Riley's starting point was absolutely to the point.
Josephine Reed: That was Adele Chatfield Taylor, former director of design at the NEA, now head of the American Academy in Rome. To learn more about how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Artworks blog at www.arts.gov. I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.