In my most recent “Behind the Scenes Conversations” interviews. I spoke with Dana Springs, Public Art Program Manager for the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. I first met Dana when I attended a Webinar on Public Art for Artists in 2011 and since then have been curious about the inner workings of San Diego’s public art projects. Our interview was fun and informative - learning about Dana’s background, what led her to a career in Public Art, description of her current job, and her commitment to quality public art for all residents and visitors to San Diego.
Dana Springs was born and raised in Dana Point, California. Her father is an attorney and her mom began as a teacher but subsequently became a psychologist. Her parents came from a background in the performing arts and Dana and her sister grew up in Orange County regularly seeing live theater, dance performances and concerts. Dance and music were a central part of family get-togethers and Dana grew to love it. From the time she was 9 years old, Dana trained in contemporary and jazz dance. When it came to making a decision about college, Dana was certain she wanted to attend a public institution where she could experience a diversity of ideas and people. She graduated from UC, San Diego with a major in Visual Art and a minor in Dance.
Since she didn’t have a clear path for her next step after college, Dana referred back to an earlier strong interest in fashion. As a result, she took a job at Nordstrom which she talks about as having been “enlightening”. It taught her that she did not enjoy selling so three months later she quit, and took a job as a receptionist at an advertising agency. After a time, she became an Account Administrator for their accounts that managed residential home developers. In 1998, Dana moved back to San Diego and began a new job in accounts management working for another advertising agency that represented national consumer brands. Though she learned a great deal about business, and about the development and process of creating ideas and implementing them, Dana explained that she felt the jobs she had thus far were not “meaningful” to her. So, after a year and a half, she quit her job and went on a bit of a soul searching mission to find out what could be next . She began going to museums and seeing “San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture” on all the printed materials she read. Eventually she called them and asked if there were job openings – amazingly, there were, so she began the long, civil service process of applying and interviewing for a position with the commission. Four months later, Dana was offered the position of Public Art Program Assistant, was later promoted to Public Art Program Associate and finally was promoted to Public Art Program Manager which is the position she holds today.
Dana has been at the Commission for Arts and Culture for a total of 12 years. She supports the mission of the Commission which is to promote and support arts and culture for all residents and visitors to San Diego. Along with a small staff of Executive Director, Victoria Hamilton, Funding Manager, Gary Margolis, and Arts Management Specialist Nigel Brookes - As Public Art Program Manager, Dana is responsible for several things. One is to work with artists whose work is selected for the city of San Diego public works projects and to ensure everything goes well through installation of the work. Currently, Dana is working with the four artists whose work will ultimately be installed at the brand new San Diego Central Library due to open in July, 2013. Dana is also responsible for art projects for private development projects including shopping malls, hotels, grocery chains and offices as these developers are required by the Commission to put in money for either art, cultural space , or in-lieu cash. The third area Dana is responsible for is the care and maintenance of the City’s art collection which has a total of 1500 pieces and has been collected since 1909. Much of it is sculpture but there are also prints and paintings as well. Dana is managing approximately 30 projects at the present time, the largest being those at the Central Library and the Balboa Centennial Celebration coming up in 2015.
As Public Art Program Manager, it is evident that Dana Springs has her hands full – she cites navigating the bureauocracy and overcoming peoples’ stereotypes about public art as her largest challenges. When asked about advice she might have for artists applying for “Requests for Qualifications” for the Public Art Programs, she recommends artists only apply for what “speaks to you”, and things that you have a commitment to doing. Staff reviewing applications can easily see which artists have this commitment - and the ones that don’t are typically not selected in the artist selection process. Public art is accessible – and a great opportunity for the general public to experience the joy of quality art within the environment of their daily lives.