The Making of a Public Art Project

by artist and guest blogger Todd Scalise



Public art stimulates more than just the soul – it also stimulates economic development through placemaking. Higherglyphics are “visual public relations” projects that combine public art with turnkey management, expert installation, and lucrative merchandising in order to establish brand recognition and create recurring streams of revenue for the communities we serve. This field of visual communication encompasses a variety of disciplines ranging from graphic design and branding to art-making and fabrication. Placing public art in burgeoning communities has proven to be an effective way to highlight local assets through community expression; the intention being that the creation of public spaces promotes people’s health, happiness, and well being.

Higherglyphics LLC was formed by myself, Todd Scalise, in 2012 with the intention of combining skill sets from previous experiences in order to create for others at a truly massive scale. I had been moonlighting as a studio artist for a number of years (mostly while I taught), working in ad agencies, and freelancing as a graphic designer. Over time it became increasingly apparent that something was missing in my studio practice: a large audience. I learned as a design professor that I could communicate ideas effectively with a team of creatively-minded people. In agencies, I found that I could collaborate well with clients while still preserving my own vision. Additionally, years of graphic design provided me with the tools not only to create large-scale artwork, but also to create powerful branding that becomes an essential building block for a community’s identity. Through these experiences I learned that an artist is an entrepreneur. He is the center of his business, not just the center of his art.

Higherglyphics was awarded the bid for it largest community project to date at Penn State Erie, The Behrend Campus for the AMIC (Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Center) by a local economic development corporation that financed the building. Unlike studio arts, companies like Higherglyphics are not typically represented by galleries or agents. Most work is either developed from within and then pitched to a client or offered through an open call via RFQ. Higherglyphics is competitive because it offers individual art direction by an award winning artist and the support of a staff of creative professionals. This business model is unique and is truly turnkey from concept to design to execution.

The artwork featured at AMIC was unveiled in 2016 and consists of six murals covering more than 350 square feet as well as two architectural aluminum sculptures (one indoor and one outdoor). This installation is a meditation on two highly relevant aspects of engineering: materials and processes. Not only are the individual works impressive, but the project as a whole is one of the most ambitious artistic undertakings in Northwest Pennsylvania. No other building in the area boasts such a thorough integration of art and architecture.

Furthermore, Higherglyphics involved a number of Behrend students in the process of creating the artwork, resulting in a multidisciplinary art and industry collaboration. Bostwick Design Partnership, the architecture firm that designed the building, was brought into the creative process in order to ensure that the artwork reflected the intention of the building as well as the community for which it was designed. Robert Bostwick states in the project video, “From the very beginning, the idea was to create artwork that somehow relates to the same things the building relates to – the topography, the geology, and the location and culture of Erie.”

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