Public art is created for public consumption in a variety of forms and mediums. It can be a mural, sculpture, or integrated architectural or landscape architecture work that interprets the history of a site or community and may address a specific social or environmental issue. It is generally free and accessible to the general public. Public artworks can be found indoors – such as foyers, atriums or airports – or outdoors – in parks, plazas, squares, and even freeways or shopping centres.
Unlike gallery, studio or museum artworks that are usually created for aesthetic, cultural or historical interpretation only, public art is intended to have a more practical function by adding visual interest to an area of urban space and fostering a sense of place for the community to enjoy. The process of creating public art is often complex, involving many stakeholders including: the artist, architects, design professionals, city planners, community residents, civic leaders, politicians, approval agencies and construction teams. The goal of successful public art is to create a piece that will be engaging and relevant for years to come.
Some artists dedicate their entire careers to creating public art, such as Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland who built the famous Vigeland Sculpture Park in his home country or Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Others, like street artists and graffiti artists, produce public art for temporary exhibitions and events such as festivals.
What makes public art unique is that it must be able to stand up to both weather and the test of time. Designed to be long-lasting, most public art is made from materials that can withstand the elements and human interaction. Depending on the scope of a project, it might also be commissioned with the idea of being rehabilitated over time to maintain its integrity and relevance.
While public art can be anything from a monument or memorial to a sculpture, mural or installation, it is often used as a means of communication between the artist and the local community. This can be through participation in the actual artistic creation of the piece, such as in a community based project, or by including interviews with community members to form a narrative that can then become part of the final work.
In Alexandria, residents play a critical role in the planning and development of public art projects as participants in community meetings and as members of citizen selection panels who recommend artist choices to the Public Art Committee. In the past, residents have also volunteered to assist with installation of artworks in their communities by helping to paint and install the works.