When we think of public art, most of us envision sculptures or paintings in areas accessible to the general public. But public art can take many forms and use any artistic medium, be permanent or temporary, indoors or outdoors, and be incorporated into architecture and site design or stand alone. Generally, it is intended to beautify, enrich and enjoy.
Artists can create works of public art with any budget, and it can be a way to make a living, or to reach a larger audience than they could reach in their studios. It can also be a vehicle to address social issues. For example, artists have been known to enlist community members to assist with the creation of pieces that highlight social concerns.
Unlike traditional gallery or museum artworks, public art is designed to be durable and resistant to weather conditions and human activity. Often, it is sculptural and/or interactive, allowing people to touch or interact with the piece. It is usually designed to be as accessible as possible, with no restrictions or tickets needed to view it.
A public art project must go through a rigorous process to ensure it can be installed, maintained and removed without damaging the environment in which it is placed or violating local laws. In order to do so, the project needs to be carefully planned out from beginning to end. This includes the selection of an artist, researching and discussing potential projects with local residents, architects and planners before the project moves forward, and ensuring that any work meets the expectations of the sponsoring government agency, private developer or nonprofit.
In addition to making sure the art is able to stay on display, artists and project sponsors must also ensure it will be safe to operate. This means that the artwork should be created with materials that are strong enough to resist any damage from weather or human activities and can be easily repaired.
As the world enters a period of heightened global uncertainty, public art has become a powerful tool to explore complex themes and encourage discussion and action. Whether by provoking thought or encouraging debate, these projects have the power to transform and shape the cultural landscape of our cities, towns and neighborhoods.
Some artists have used public art to express their personal opinions, while others have created pieces that reflect the geopolitical climate. This past year has seen an uptick in activism-based projects that tackle a variety of social issues, including immigration, war, race relations and gender identity.
While some artists are “just going for it” without any formal authorization, such as Gordon Matta-Clark’s 1970 piece Day’s End, most are carefully crafting their work and researching the community in which they are installing. This research is important to a project’s success because it shows that the art makers are invested in the context of their work and will continue to refine and evolve their concept as they listen to feedback from multiple sources.