Marie Bukowski

Marie Bukowski, director of the School of Art and Design at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is part of an effort to revitalize Carbondale’s downtown, including promoting public art.  (Photo provided)

February 23, 2015

Director promotes art for a ‘healthy community’

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- To make a positive change in someone’s perception of the world around them, start with a bike rack. Or a crosswalk. 

Marie Bukowski, director of the School of Art and Design at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has devoted a substantial part of her professional life – and her free time -- to promoting the concept that art is a vital part of an economically healthy community. 

Within months of moving to Carbondale in 2013, she joined the civic group Carbondale Community Arts and joined the Carbondale Downtown Advisory Committee – and through it, the arts and entertainment focus group, which included discussions of public art and streetscapes. Streetscapes, she explained, refer to improving the appearance and economic health of a limited area – not a whole city, but a few blocks within a city. 

Some of her passion for public art and art outreach may be due to growing up in Pittsburgh, where defunct steel mills are now beautifully designed gallery and shopping space. 

“When people talk about revitalizing a city, they talk about business -- major industry, small businesses,” Bukowski said. “And of course that works. But arts have significance for people. If a city is more beautiful and more interesting, then people want to spend more time in it, not just passing through it.” 

Bukowski comes to Carbondale from Ruston, La., where she was a professor of art at Louisiana Tech University. She was part of Ruston’s arts revival, playing a significant role in developing the Ruston Holiday Arts Tour, an event that injects about $3 million a year into the city’s economy. 

That event, she explained, brings selected artists to the city, pairs them with a downtown business, and for a long weekend in November, shoppers enjoy extended business hours, music, art and a pleasant holiday shopping experience. 

Her experience in Ruston, and her work in Carbondale, support her belief that people do in fact care about art. In Carbondale, community surveys pertaining to downtown revitalization showed public art to be the second highest priority. 

“For revitalization, there has to be willingness from the community,” she said. “Our meetings were well attended – the smallest attendance we had at any of the meetings was about 60 people.” 

Bukowski said that when public art and improving a streetscape combine, interactive art can offer a money-saving, space-limited solution. Her presentation to the committee during the summer of 2014 included images of and ideas for bike racks that look like sculptures, whimsical crosswalks resembling piano keys or scenery art, and wall murals that illustrate the city’s history. 

“People will come back to a place that’s beautiful,” she said. “And people don’t want to live in a place that’s ugly. With public art, and interactive public art, it’s about looking at utilitarian objects from a different perspective. We want people to look at where they live a little differently, with more pride and more creativity.” 

Bukowski has been director of the School of Art and Design at SIU since 2013. She earned her bachelor of fine arts degree at Carnegie Mellon University, a certificate of Polish and art history at Jagiellonian University (Krakow, Poland) and a master of fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania. She has an extensive list of international awards and honors, and solo, invitational and juried exhibits.