Public art is a form of artistic expression that is made accessible to the general public and that is often designed to be experienced as part of a community’s daily life. It appears in a variety of forms that can mimic or depart from more traditional presentations of art including sculptures/statues, site-specific installations, murals, architecture, graffiti, actions and interventions, land and environmental art, and performance.
Unlike commissioned art that is often exhibited in museums and galleries, public artwork is rooted in place and does not go on tour. Because of this, the art must be able to withstand the elements and endure the interaction of humans with it on a regular basis. Often public artists will design pieces that are meant to be interactive and inspire discussion and reflection in the community. While some pieces may degrade from interaction with the elements, many communities will periodically renovate and refurbish their public art to keep it looking fresh and to encourage further engagement.
Like all other art forms, public art is not immune to criticism and controversy. While some artists aim to purely beautify public spaces, others seek to challenge or question the politics of representation. For example, the controversial statues of African-American Civil Rights Movement activists Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are often criticized for portraying the women as passive figures in their roles rather than assertive leaders who stood up for their beliefs.
Other public art projects center around addressing current social or ecological issues. For instance, in her piece Bridge Over Tree, artist Siah Armajani sought to make a sculptural work that would prompt viewers to reconsider their relationship to the urban environment by creating a kinetic art installation that could be climbed and experienced in a phenomenological manner. In this way, the art acted as a Romantic retreat from the noise and busyness of city life.
As the concept of sustainability has become more prevalent in society, so too has it affected public art. The idea behind sustainable art is to create works that are both financially viable and environmentally responsible, with the goal of balancing all three aspects. In order to accomplish this, sustainable art often incorporates a range of techniques and materials, such as recycled materials, renewable energy, green construction practices, and low-impact or no-impact designs.
While there are a number of different ways to achieve sustainable public art, the most important aspect is for the project to be thoughtfully planned from the beginning. This includes considering the location and environmental conditions, the community’s needs and interest, as well as the broader goals of the public art program.
In the process of planning a new public art project, the City’s Cultural Advisory Board will often solicit input from the community through public engagement sessions prior to the start of the design phase of the project. The information that is gained from these sessions is taken into account by the artist when developing their concept for a new work and is incorporated into the final design of the project.