Public art is a broad category that encompasses a variety of works in the physical and social spaces of our cities, towns and communities. It can be permanent or temporary and may involve a range of mediums, from paintings to sculptures, and from murals to video installations. It is characterized by the relationship of its content to its context and the interaction of its audience. In this sense, it is more than simply a decorative ornament but rather an interrogation of urban citizenship and space.
The purpose of public art can vary, from beautifying municipal parks and building plazas to celebrating historical figures or events or commemorating a place’s unique character. More recently, public art has become an important part of a city’s identity and a way for residents and visitors to express themselves through art and interact with each other in new ways.
Public Art can be found throughout the world, in places such as museums, libraries and community centers as well as public buildings and spaces such as town halls and civic plazas. The art can be commissioned by local governments, corporations or private individuals and organizations, and can range from large scale monuments to sculptural and installation works to interactive, kinetic, mobile and other site specific works. The artist can be a professional artist or a member of the community and it can be a collaboration between the two.
One of the most common misconceptions about public art is that it must be a monumental piece of sculpture or some other “focal point” to qualify. In fact, many public projects are more subtle and are as much about social engagement and interaction as they are about aesthetics. A recent example is the work of street artists who use the city streets as their canvas to express their ideas and engage the public.
While Public Art has long been a popular form of urban cultural expression, it can be difficult to define or categorize. A common criterion is that the artwork should be open to the public and not restricted by a censorship board or other governing body. However, this can restrict the artistic freedom and limit its impact. The esthetic of the work is also important, as there is no universal style or period to qualify as public art.
The concept of Public Art has evolved as social practices have come to influence planning and policymaking, and the public has been given more opportunities to be involved in the conceptualization and development of projects and to participate directly in the production of the artwork itself. As this trend continues, it is likely that the definition of Public Art will evolve further to include not only works of art but also projects that explore civic and social issues in innovative and creative ways.
The Utah State Legislature Infrastructure and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee oversees all capital projects that receive funding for public art. Contact the legislators on the committee to share your views about incorporating public art into state funded projects.