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Art Goes Public : Beyond the Numbers

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

The rise in popularity for public art projects has pushed the definitions of what public art is as well as the boundaries of what forms it can take. In cities big and small, public art has moved on from murals and sculptures to the point that is now considered a vital element in any public space, indoor or outdoor. Projects can be big or small, from building-sized murals to yarn-bombing in parks (or an entire bridge, like they did in Pittsburgh!).

Digital Canopy at the Lit Brothers Building, Philadelphia, PA. Local artists contributed to this ever-changing piece.

Advances in technology have resulted in some spectacular installations playing with video and light. Public art is increasingly interactive, encouraging the audience to play, climb, dance, take selfies and videos. Some projects even require the participation of the audience, such as Candy Chang's “Before I Die” mural, which invites viewers to record their bucket list wishes directly on the mural. It's found in over 60 countries around the world.

"The Horses" by Jean-Marie Appriou in Central Park, Manhattan, NY.

No matter what the scale or setting, public art can deal with serious themes like poverty, politics, food security, the environment, and so much more. Every piece has its own unique voice, giving it the power to make people engage, think and even shift their perspective.

Public Art Is:

Valuable: Economic value aside, accessible art projects in public view have great social and cultural value. It encourages connections between people from different walks of life. Pieces that include contributions from community members and passers-by can foster both connection and empathy among viewers.

Colorful: What’s better than a splash of color in a grey cityscape? Bright pops of color can transform an alley, a building, a garden in unexpected ways. The joy of finding color and creativity in unexpected places has a positive effect on our moods and serves to elevate everyday experiences in urban areas.

Silos transformed in Vancouver, BC.

Memorable: Art has great power to create indelible memories. For a local, a favorite piece of street art, for example, can be connected to great memories of getting to know their own city. For a tourist or newcomer, a stained-glass window or park sculpture helps define a real sense of place. By encouraging interaction and exploration, public art leads people down unknown paths, and those journeys build powerful memories.

Attractive: Not just aesthetically! More and more, public art is becoming a tourist attraction. Having public art installations all around the city is a fun way to encourage visitors to explore new neighborhoods. Getting tourists out of the main tourist areas means more support for local businesses!

Inspiring: when art can be seen and experienced by everyone, it inspires even more art! Other artists in the community are encouraged to get involved, especially when cities host contests for more public projects. It spreads out from there; who knows how many people see a mural or sculpture and are inspired to create a piece of art of their own?

Art in its most engaging forms has become a living, breathing aspect of public life.


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