In the Swing of Things: Howard Katz Steps Up to Support Public Art
By Leon M. Rubin
Howard Katz doesn’t just talk the talk about public art. He walks it – or, to be more precise, he dances it!
Last fall, Katz helped organize a swing dance flash mob on the Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk to create awareness about public art and the newly formed Friends of Public. On a sunny afternoon, he and about two dozen other dancers from Swing Out South Florida attracted a crowd of delighted onlookers as they showed off their jazzy moves by the Cascade Arch – a public art installation by Barry Tinsley on the Riverwalk.
“It was really a blast,” says Katz, who has been swing dancing for the last two years. “We did it to bring awareness to public art and art in general. We started with a pair of dancers and then everyone joined in. We had a pretty receptive audience. Everyone had a really great time.” The flash mob followed about a month of rehearsals, he notes.
It wasn’t the least bit odd for the Broward Cultural Council’s Public Art & Design Committee member to perform in public. In a sense, he’s constantly on stage as an art professor as well as the coordinator of media arts and the gallery director at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. He’s taught about 25 different classes including art history, drawing, 3D design and even theater appreciation at the school. In addition, he’s written and published study guides on art history and art appreciation.
Katz, who grew up in Sunrise, found himself drawn to the arts as a child. “I’ve always been drawing,” he says. “It started with comic book characters. I started taking it more seriously in high school and then decided it was what I wanted to do forever.” He studied at what was then Broward Community College and earned his undergraduate degree from Florida State. A master’s degree followed from Northern Illinois University, where he taught throughout his three-year program.
“We did it to bring awareness to public art and art in general. We started with a pair of dancers and then everyone joined in.
We had a pretty receptive audience. Everyone had a really great time.”
After returning to South Florida, he began teaching in Broward County and ultimately joined the faculty at the Art Institute. He has directed the art gallery for four years.
Despite the demands of his life as a teacher and administrator, Katz also makes time to create his own art – primarily painting and drawing. “My second bedroom is my studio,” he says. “I’m not the stay-up-all-night type, but I try to do it as often as I can. I put in a little time when I get home from work and on weekend afternoons.
In his work, Katz explains on his website, “I explore the perception of objects on both a formal and conceptual level. From musical compositions explored visually through composition, shape and color to pieces of armor and their relevance (if any) in today’s society, to exploring identity and its representation in the 21st century, the artwork, no matter how different aesthetically, all involves the exploration of perception.”
He’s working on a series that he calls “the ultimate self-portrait,” in which he interprets various aspects of his body artistically. He created a 4-foot by 5-foot drawing of the mold of his teeth that was used when he had a bridge made, for example, and he’s working on a group of paintings of his brain based on images from a CAT scan he had a few years ago. “We have a lot of different ways to identify people besides just looking at them, such as dental records and fingerprints,” he observes. “Why not reflect on what’s going on in our times by depicting me with those features?”
Katz’ background as a working artist makes him particularly well-suited for the Public Art & Design Committee, where he has served for nearly four years. He is fascinated by the process of evaluating proposals and making decisions about new public art installations in the community.
As a committee member, he says, “The one thing I’d like to accomplish is to bring the best possible art to the County. It has a lot of benefits. It brings art to everybody and makes it more accessible. It starts to create a cultural history for our area - something that can connect us to our past and our future through art. It energizes and invigorates the community – and it supplies jobs to artists, not to mention the people who supply the materials for the art to be created.”
Serving on the committee has heightened his own awareness of public art, he adds. “I love traveling. Public art is everywhere in the world now. I notice it more. It makes the experience even greater.”
To view Katz’ work, visit his website– and you can find video of the Friends of Public Art flash mob on YouTube.