architecture · behavior · community · design · Social

Why Public Art Is Important « The Dirt

ASLA blog The Dirt has been reporting on their annual meeting, and mentioned a talk discussing why public art is important. I couldn’t agree more!

…art occupies a unique position within the art world. In comparison with big-name gallery shows, public art is often “under appreciated” much like landscape architecture. But there’s lots to laud: “It’s free. There are no tickets. People don’t have to dress up. You can view it alone or in groups. It’s open to everyone.”

Community art can also create attachment to one’s community. According to Bach, studies have looked at the economic development benefits of art, but only just recently have there been wider examinations of the effect of art on a community’s sense of place. The Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community initiative surveyed some 43,000 people in 43 cities and found that “social offerings, openness and welcome-ness,” and, importantly, the “aesthetics of a place – its art, parks, and green spaces,” ranked higher than education, safety, and the local economy as a “driver of attachment.” Indeed, the same story may be playing out locally in Philly: a survey of local residents found that viewing public art was the 2nd most popular activity in the city, ranking above hiking and biking.

An example of public art; “Tree Futures” by Suze Woolf. Photo from the Heaven and Earth Exhibition in Carkeek Park, Seattle, 2012.

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It creates community by creating a sense of place, it is available for all to enjoy, and it makes a place more enjoyable in which to hang out. All of these are important for creating enriching environments. Also, by making the art public, people often feel they have ownership of the art, or a right to play with it. This can be good and bad; if they art is designed to be engaged with, more power to the people. However, some people do act upon the art in a destructive way, either accidentally or intentionally, which is play to them but ruins it for the rest of the public.

This brings of the life cycle of art, and it being taken care of or abandoned over time, which was also discussed at the meeting:

Bach also made a point of discussing the “afterlife of public art,” what happens once it’s out there. As an example, she pointed a work by Pepon Osorio, a pavilion at a Latino community center that features historical photos of people from the community. Today, kids from the neighborhood take photos of themselves with photos of their ancestors. Another project called Common Ground in a footprint of a church that burnt down was hosting weddings just a week after it opened. While these works became part of their communities, Bach said the group still has to work hard to ensure that all works remain relevant to their communities and aren’t “orphaned.”

Some art is meant to be abandoned; at Carkeek Park in Seattle there is an annual public art exhibit where often the installed art pieces are left at the end of the summer to decay or be destroyed by the elements.

Art installation at Carkeek Park, Seattle, 2012

Overall though I think interaction with public art is a good thing. Do you or have you ever played in fountains, posed with statues or art pieces, or altered them in some way (like the Fremont people in Seattle)? These are all forms of play inspired by public art, which I think are valuable methods of play and should be encouraged so long as it doesn’t damage the artwork.

Waiting for the Interurban is memorial to the trolley/rail line that once ran between Everett and Tacoma. Standing at the north end of the Fremont Bridge, these five aluminum commuters (and one dog) have waited since 1978 for a ride that never came. Decorating the statues with seasonal apparel, political signs and other props has become a Seattle tradition.

What is your experience with public art? Do you find it a good use of real estate? Do you have a statue or fountain or public art piece that speaks to you, that you think of as “yours”?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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