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New website, additions for Texas Tech University System's Public Art Collection

Stainless steel and LED light sculptures make "Texas Rising," which was installed at the West Village Dormitory on the Texas Tech University campus in 2014.
Courtesy of the Texas Tech University System Public Art Collection
Stainless steel and LED light sculptures make "Texas Rising," which was installed at the West Village Dormitory on the Texas Tech University campus in 2014.

When you walk around any of the Texas Tech University System campuses, you'll see striking pieces of art both inside and outside of the buildings. Those are part of the system's public art collection. Emily Wilkinson is the director of that and recently visited the Texas Tech Public Media studio to talk about recent additions to public art, including a new website.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Sarah Self-Walbrick: For those who aren’t familiar, what is the public art collection?

Emily Wilkinson: The public art collection actually started in 1998. We commission original works of art with our major construction projects. At the time, that was anything $2 million and above. Now, it's $4 million and above, just with price changes. But we commission original works of art for that project. And this is something that we do system-wide. So it's not just on the Texas Tech University campus, it's at the Health Sciences Center, Angelo State and now that Midwestern State is part of the system, they will begin getting public art as well. So that's where most of the works come from. We did also, once the collection started in 1998, started taking care of some of our historic pieces, like Will Rogers and the mural in Holden Hall. So those have also kind of been added into what we deem the public art collection.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Talk to me a little bit about picking the right art for the right project.

Emily Wilkinson: So what we do is what is called site-specific art. So we actually commission original works of art for each project. That commissioning process starts when the construction project starts. So we're really hiring an artist more than purchasing an art piece when we start the process and work with the artists throughout the project to create a piece that will really reflect kind of what's happening in that building or what's going on around campus. You really want it to match where it is and really only fit with Texas Tech. So when we commission an artist to create a piece, they will work with them while they're creating it. But it's the only time they've ever made that, they're not allowed to make it again. So it's the only place in the world where you can see most of this art.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Tell us a little bit more about the different types of art in this collection. It is very diverse, a little bit of everything for everyone.

Emily Wilkinson: Really our only requirement is that it be an original commission, but also that it be publicly accessible. So most of that, probably 80% of our collection, is outdoors, meaning it's gonna have to withstand our wind and sunlight, and just people being around it 24 hours a day. But it also means that if it's in a lobby, or if it's inside a building, it needs to be inside like the lobby or something easy to find.

It's not necessarily always sculpture, a lot of times it is, but we also have murals. We do have some photography that's hung up in certain buildings. We have our first digital artwork at the Health Sciences Center that actually interacts with visitors as they come in and out of the building. I love how that one kind of reflects what's happening in that space. We're actually installing a piece pretty soon that was from an artist that's a painter, and his work’s been turned into tile mosaic. So there are lots of different ways you can translate the art. I work within Facilities, Planning and Construction, because it helps us see what the project is going to look like and really to see where a good place is for that art to go.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Tell us about some other recent art additions. Obviously, construction has continued over the past few years. So tell us about maybe some pieces that people haven't seen yet. 

Emily Wilkinson: As you said, construction continues regardless. One of the nice things about having art mainly outside is that you can see it whenever you want. So some of our newer pieces, we actually received a donation of a Terry Allen sculpture called “Liquid Assets” [that’s now] outside of the school of art. That's an older piece, but we were able to give it a home. So that one is really fun to go see. It is technically a fountain. But the way the fountain is set up, it looks like he's a businessman kind of sweating. Rather than a typical fountain. Another new piece is “As Far As the Eyes Can See,” which is in front of Weeks Hall on University. So that's probably one of our more visible pieces, for people who don't come into campus. That was installed in 2020. We're also in progress with the new murals at the Womble Basketball Center. Those will actually go up in early May. Those are coming over here from Germany, I think pretty soon, to get those installed. We also installed a piece at the El Paso campus, the new medical sciences II building, by Thomas Sayer that's 23 wind vanes that interact with the weather and Earth-cast walls that he carved to look similar to the landscaping in El Paso.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Y’all have a new website to help people better navigate and enjoy the collection. Why was that needed?

Emily Wilkinson: It's been needed, I feel like, for a very long time. We have over 150 pieces in our collection, and prior to this website launching, we had one page that talked about just what the collection was and directed people to our social media and our app. But if somebody wanted to just sit there and kind of plan out what they wanted to see, or even just see kind of the vast collection that we have, they weren't able to do that from our website.

I think while it's great to have an app - they're so accessible - people don't always want to download them, or don't have the time, or don't want to look at it from their phone. So this is a good way for people to look at our full collection.

It's divided up by campus, so they can look at what's on each campus. Click on each of the pieces and see where they're located and have a lot of different images of the pieces. Some of them have videos of the artists speaking about the work. So it's just a lot more information in one place.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: And it sounds like a lot more interactive, being able to see what's on other campuses. That's a really neat feature. What are your tips for touring public art?

Emily Wilkinson: If you want to get on the website and look in advance and see what pieces you're interested in seeing, the campus is so big, so that will help you kind of figure out where to start. And I would say maybe plan out your visit. You're probably not going to see every piece in one day. If you do, let me know, because I'd have not been able to do that either. But, you know, limit it to maybe 10 or 15, based on how much time you have.

I would still recommend downloading our app. It's called ArTTrek and it's free to download. It uses your location. So when you are on campus, it will tell you how to get to pieces. Or if you find a piece you really like and you walk by and discover one that you didn't realize was there, you can pull up the app and it'll say what's nearby and kind of tell you about that piece. So I think that's another good option.

Of course, with campus, you always want to check on parking. Make sure you read the signs. Our visitor booths are good about helping you with parking, if it's during the week, and should tell you where you can go. If it's on the weekend, you usually have a lot more options for parking. But we do also have a “visit us” tab on the website. So if you want to set up a guided tour, those are always free. We just need to know that people want to take a tour with plenty of advance notice so we can have somebody scheduled to do that. So there's several options and we try to put those on the website to give people chances to figure out how to visit.

But what is great about it is it's 24 hours a day, seven days a week that you can see the art on campus. So if you just want to swing by campus and find some things, you can do that totally on your own schedule.

Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.

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