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Art Goes Public

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Once art strays beyond the walls of the museum or gallery, it takes on a new life. Out in the world for everyone to see and enjoy, the possibilities open up in so many ways. In the public realm, art functions to explore the relationship between content and its audience. Its location, materials, value, permanency or size can be manipulated in wonderful ways, as the restrictions that affect art in traditional settings are virtually eliminated.

This leads to the kind of unbounded creativity that has added so much life to cities around the globe. As the practice becomes more popular, research has revealed that public art has a great ROI.

Giant Canada Goose shaped mural made with custom powder-coated graphics on aluminum
Local history and art merge in Carleton-sur-mer, Quebec. By Caroline Dugas & Magali Dal Cin.

For example, a report by Americans for the Arts revealed that in 2015, the country’s non-profit arts and culture industry generated $166.3 billion in economic activity. This breaks down to $63.8 billion in spending by cultural organizations plus $102.5 billion in event-related spending. 4.6 million jobs were supported thanks to these initiatives. Governments invested around $5 billion into these initiatives and received $27.5 billion in return.

As a result, many cities now set aside a portion of the annual budget for cultural projects that include temporary and permanent art projects.

Public art infographic

A powerful tool for the public realm

Since cities big and small have invested more into cultural programs including public art development, there has been an undeniable impact on artists, citizens and communities. As far as the data shows, that impact has been overwhelmingly positive.

The Americans for the Arts organization polls Americans about their opinions on public art every year and find again and again just how much support exists for accessible cultural endeavors. In fact, that support appears to be rising.

60 percent of Americans approve of arts funding by local government; 58 percent by state government; and 54 percent by federal government.

Colorful lanterns outside a library in South Whittier, CA. By Louise Griffin.

The intangible benefits make the strongest argument for the continued investment on public art. It connects people across cultures, backgrounds and demographics by providing them with the common experience of viewing and contemplating art.

It can be an act of teaching that reaches individuals and communities in more meaningful ways than a book, article or traditional educational method ever could. Public art is a conversation between artist, viewer and community. Every piece has its own unique voice, giving it the power to make people engage, think and even shift their perspective.


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