Public art is most effective when it results in awareness and interest in civic design within a community. Public art can take many forms, but in general is designed with the intent to be displayed and experienced in the public realm, as opposed to in a museum or gallery. Public art may include:
- Wall murals
- Interactive water features, video images, or light displays
- Formally designed gardens
- Integrated architecture and landscape architecture design
- Pop–up or installations intended to be temporary
The article “Why Public Art Matters,” published by the Americans for the Arts (2018), explores how public art impacts five community values: economic growth and sustainability, attachment and cultural identity, artists as contributors, social cohesion and cultural understanding. Conclusions of the article include:
- Public art directly supports tourism and economic development strategies by attracting and retaining residents. Additionally, developers now use art to attract and keep renters. From a 2016 Americans Speak Out About the Arts Survey, “Half of the people with a college degree and a majority of Millennials and Generation Xs say they would strongly consider whether a community is rich in the arts when deciding where to locate for a job.”
- Art allows people to create a connection to their community or feel an attachment to a public space. Public art can make places unique by reflecting local history, design, and architecture. From a 2018 Americans Speak Out About the Arts Survey, “70 percent of Americans say they experience the arts in a non-traditional arts venue such as a park, hospital, shopping mall or airport.”
- Inviting local artists to contribute to the design of public space demonstrates the community’s commitment to cultural enhancement.
- Public art tells a visual story of the heritage of other cultures. Understanding other cultures promotes social cohesion and acceptance. From a 2018 Americans Speak Out About the Arts Survey, “72 percent of Americans believe the arts unify our community regardless of age, race, and ethnicity.”
Art can be permanent, temporary, or pop-up for a day. Temporary public art has a predetermined life span. It is a great way for a community to introduce art into a community. Temporary art, such as a mural on the side of a wall, can add visual interest in the downtown. In effect, using rotating art within the community becomes an exhibit without residents going to a museum. Some communities have even paid rent to artists to display art temporarily. Pop-up art is typically a temporary art event showcasing emerging artists and their work. Pop-up art can also be used to fill in a vacant downtown store to provide interest, detract from a vacant space, and increase traffic downtown.
Most communities start small with temporary art or pop-up art events. Temporary art allows the community to gauge the interest of the public in an on-going art program. Typically, proactive art programs are linked to a redevelopment commission or board of works, where they can be incorporated into the capital improvement program. Other communities have established an art commission, created by the City Council through an ordinance. With a public art program, a community will need to develop a plan that identifies sites, concepts, and potential approaches for integrating public art into capital projects. This plan would then be submitted to the arts commission and approved by the City Council. Once approved, the staff would develop project parameters, a process for selection of artists, and coordinate artists’ work with the professionals designing a public space, park, or capital project. The arts commission, City Council, and staff would need to determine how to fund this program. Many communities have used the following sources:
- Fund as part of capital improvements plan.
- Create a grant or other special funding programs for private donors, not-for-profits, etc.
- Charge a 1% public art fee to development applications to fund program.
- Provide incentives if public art is included as part of a development.