February 18, 2021 | Alyson Stanfield

Crowdfunding a Public Art Project with Romy Owens

I live to track down art off the beaten path—traveling to out-of-the-way places to see works of art that delight and inspire, or even confound me. I like knowing that 1) there won't be a huge crowd or line to get in and that 2) I'm one of a small(ish) group of people who have actually visited that spot.

One of my favorite art writers, Martin Gayford, wrote a book on this topic titled The Pursuit of Art: Travels, Encounters, and Revelations. It's as much about the journey to see art, much of it in far-flung locations, as it is about the art itself.

romy owens under her wing was the universe enid oklahoma public art sculpture
©2020 Romy Owens, Under Her Wing was the Universe.  Steel, concrete, lights, plastic, and cultivated prairie landscape, 30 x 30 x 130 feet. Photo courtesy the artist.

Every so often, I can get my mom interested in accompanying me on one of my art trips. Mom isn't a huge follower of art, but she likes a good adventure, and it was easy to get her to hop in the car with me last fall to see Under Her Wing was the Universe, an enormous public sculpture by artist and curator Romy Owens that was installed in 2020 in Enid, Oklahoma.

Enid is the 9th-largest city in Oklahoma, with a population of about 50,000, but it doesn't sit on a major interstate highway. It's about 90 minutes northwest of Oklahoma City, where Mom lives, and not really on the way to anywhere else. You kinda have to go out of your way to get there.

And that's what we did. Mom and I had both been following the progression of Romy's sculpture and donated to its crowdfunding. After following the progression of this enormous endeavor and seeing it for myself, I couldn't wait to talk more with Romy.

On this episode of the Art Biz Podcast, Romy and I discuss her commitment to raising $100,000 for this outdoor public sculpture and native prairie landscape as a gift to her hometown. As it turns out, $100,000 was just the beginning.

While it all worked out in the end, it wasn’t exactly easy getting there. Not only did Romy have to raise a lot more money than originally projected, she had to stand up to the naysayers in the community.

Romy is an artist that knows how to effectively measure success. Community collaboration, fundraising, overcoming controversy and yes, using spreadsheets are just a few of the topics that you won’t want to miss in this conversation.

Music by Wildermiss

Highlights

Visiting Enid Oklahoma | Art Biz Success
With my mom in front of Under Her Wing was the Universe. October 1, 2020.

  • Romy Owens shares the leap of faith she has taken with her art and with her community. (3:30)
  • Conceiving the project Under Her Wing was the Universe. (9:55)
  • Relationships that informed the piece and my reaction to seeing it in person. (12:10)
  • Naming the piece and finding value in all that is revealed in the universe. (16:06)
  • Securing space for the project and making the connections that brought city approval. (20:04)
  • Funding from the city and how Romy planned to cover the rest. (23:50)
  • Launching a GoFundMe fundraiser. (26:40)
  • Meeting tight deadlines and overcoming obstacles along the way. (28:26)
  • Overcoming your fear of hearing “no” when raising funds. (30:33)
  • Handling the controversy that comes with creating interesting art. (33:02)
  • Key collaborators and supporters in creating a piece of this scale. (36:27)
  • Keeping track of your progress with a system that actually works. (41:09)
  • Measuring success and setting goals in specific and meaningful ways. (43:24)
  • Ideas for generating interest in your art. (49:32)

Romy Owens's public sculpture workspace
This is Romy's workspace 20 feet in the air while in the scissorlift, installing cable on the wings in April 2020. Photo courtesy the artist.

Mentioned

Under Her Wing was the Universe
The Pursuit of Art by Martin Gayford
City of Enid, Oklahoma

Related Episodes

Leveraging Location with Ashley Lucas
Knit Democracy Together with Eve Jacobs-Carnahan (multi-year project)
Multi-State Multi-Year Multi-Artist Art Project with Marilyn Artus

Romy Owens Quotes

“Whatever your profession is, you want to surround yourself with people within that community. And thankfully in the art community, it really becomes a very cohesive community.”

“When we can cheerlead each other and when we can support each other and we can bounce ideas off of each other, we only become better artists.”

“Any artist who makes anything wants people to just pause for a moment and consider a different point of view.”

“How you measure success for one project may be different than how you measure the success of another project.”

About My Guest

artist romy owens oklahoma
©2012 Self-Portrait by Romy Owens.

Romy Owens is an artist and curator living in Enid, Oklahoma, who makes site-specific installations, as well as smaller objects, in reaction to place, community, and transformation. Her curatorial work attends to a similar focus.

Both Romy's artistic and curatorial practices are presently centered around community art designed to impact social change, using art as a method to broaden our understanding of specific issues.

Follow Romy on Instagram: @theromyowens

Music by Wildermiss

4 comments add a comment
  • I so enjoyed hearing Romy speak about this project. Public art is far out of the realm of my desire or ambitions, but the process is interesting to me. Dealing with local governments, the public, contractors, and funding requires so much more than the creative skills we artists employ. People who make public art their practice are to be appreciated so much more than they are.

  • Thank you Alyson for this fascinating interview and thank you Romy for sharing her journey with us. Before I say anything else about this podcast I just want to say to Romy that the title of your piece is perfect and has more power than many may suspect. I too welled up when I first read of it. In fact, this reaction is what drew me in to listen to this podcast and to find out more about the work. It Soooooo honors your mother and all mothers everywhere. Enid is so very fortunate to have you as a resident… what a generous gift!
    This podcast was very inspiring and informative and it’s got my own creative wheels turning about what I might do for my community. Public art is so important especially so for communities that under value it. Thank you Alyson for a wonderful,inspirational adventure!

  • Thank you thank you. what an inspiring and powerful podcast. Romy, I so appreciated your complete forthrightness in talking about all the aspects and ups and downs of this project. I think as artists we throw our heart and souls into creating and wanting the work to resonate with others. I loved when you said that with art you want others to “pause for a moment to consider a different point of view.” It was heartbreaking to hear about some judgement and meanness that came you way. People are distrustful and fearful of things they don’t recognize or understand. I think it’s a beautiful project and I believe as Alyson said, that it will find its place and come into its own once the pandemic is over and it becomes a gathering spot, a place for people to create memories. I believe this is a long term thing…and am very much hoping that the fruits of this labor will accrue for you moving forward. It truly is an incredible and generous gift to Enid.
    Alyson, I love that there are star/lights honoring your mom aunt etc, and that you were able to see it. Beautiful picture of you and your beautiful mom.

    • Alyson Stanfield

      Thank you for listening, Christine! I agree. I’m most interested in seeing the prairie landscape mature under the piece. I just know it’s going to be, as you say, a gathering spot.

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