Why Public Art Matters
The term public art may bring to mind historic bronze statues in a park, but this community building initiative can take many forms. These include ephemeral works, interactive installations, art festivals, and artistic interventions.
Public art connects citizens and visitors with the culture, history, and personality of a city. It cultivates an elevated sense of place and enhances the quality of life in cities everywhere.
Enhances the Quality of Life
Public art can take many forms, from a stunning collection at Cleveland Clinic reducing patients’ stress to a gorgeous drinking fountain in New York City emphasizing cultural identity. It can help cultivate a sense of community and shared identity, represent the populations that call a place home, strengthen community ties in the area, or spark conversations about issues and histories faced at the site of public space.
It’s important to involve community members in the selection process of public art, so that the art is responsive to neighborhood context, history, and culture. Community leaders can do this by appointing selection committees with a balance of local expertise and arts knowledge, as well as formal arts education. Moreover, community-level public art like these benches animated by mimes can promote interaction and foster a spirit of community.
Increases Social Cohesiveness
As a form of community representation, public art cultivates cultural identity by creating an elevated sense of awareness for locals and visitors. This recognition inspires a sense of belonging for those who view the artwork as well as those who see themselves reflected in it.
A variety of public art types exist that serve a diverse range of purposes including to aesthetically beautify, commemorate, act as social or political propaganda, to document daily life, and to represent a community’s ethos. These may include sculptures/statues, installations, murals, architecture, action art, and more.
In communities with a history of isolation, public art can help build social cohesion. For example, a mural in Tallahassee, FL (19% Latino), that celebrated the city’s linguistic diversity helped to humanize those living in the area and improve their wellbeing.
Boosts Economic Growth
A city that has a reputation for public art attracts tourists, which stimulates economic growth. Nonprofit arts organizations also benefit from the increased spending of visitors, and public art can increase foot traffic to local restaurants, shops, and other businesses.
Moreover, many public artworks are designed to encourage interactivity. This may be by incorporating light, sound, or other features that react to people. In turn, this can help educate the public on the artistic process and techniques.
In addition, many communities use their public art to celebrate culture and heritage and foster civic pride. By building a sense of community, public art serves to make cities more attractive to young professionals seeking vibrant and inclusive communities. This is especially important given that core arts industries did not return to pre-pandemic production levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Enhances the Environment
Whether it’s a large outdoor sculpture or interactive light installation, public art enlivens and beautifies the environment around it. It can also be a means of raising awareness about environmental issues and encouraging community participation to preserve nature.
Besides being visually appealing, public art also promotes sustainability by using eco-friendly materials and techniques. For instance, some artists have used water, solar power, wind, and other natural resources in their work. In addition, some public art projects have involved long-term social programming, such as directing a local school to implement student projects on yearly collection of rainwater or asking residents to harvest crops.
With calls for environmental justice at a fever pitch, public art is helping to elevate a city’s environmental consciousness and encourage stewardship of urban spaces. It is a powerful tool that brings our streets to life in these uncertain times.
Cultivates Positive Emotions
Public art helps meet people’s aesthetic demands for the urban landscape. Moreover, its impact goes beyond beautifying the surroundings. It can also cultivate positive emotions such as pride, nurturant love, contentment, flow, nostalgia and awe.
The arts can inspire happy thoughts on the commute, during a park stroll, or while exploring a new neighborhood. A well-executed piece can also break up the monotony of daily work life.
Whether legally commissioned or slap dash stencil spray-painted guerrilla-style, public art engages audiences outside of galleries and museums. Such interaction is facilitated by recent innovations in the genre, including dematerialized and participatory artworks. These art pieces often have interactive musical, light and video components that are designed for hands-on participation. Such projects can also inspire feelings of pride and social connection in a community.