Public art matters to me because I see it as a platform for civic dialogue and as the most democratic of art forms. When done well, a public artwork engages citizens in conversation that can vary from understanding historical and cultural backgrounds, to driving attachment to place and social cohesion. In a world struggling with new ways to connect, public art can make public spaces more approachable.
Nationally, I have the honor to see how public art can drive cultural understanding, as in the ongoing discussion surrounding confederate memorials and monuments; and locally, how it can reinforce civic pride in residents. From this perspective, I also see that there is a continued need to provide tools for those making public art happen in their communities—tools that can help advocate for why public art matters.
In June of this year, Americans for the Arts worked in collaboration with the 2018 Public Art Network (PAN) Advisory Council to launch Why Public Art Matters (2018). Based on a green paper of the same name, we wanted to provide the field with a tool to help educate community members, local decision makers, and other stakeholders on the value that public art can bring to cities and towns. “Why Public Art Matters” provides talking points, reasons, data, and examples of how public art can positively impact a community in five specific areas.
Art in public spaces plays a distinguishing role in our country’s history and culture. It reflects and reveals our society, enhances meaning in our civic spaces, and adds uniqueness to our communities. Public art humanizes the built environment. It provides an intersection between past, present, and future; between disciplines and ideas. Public art matters because our communities gain cultural, social, and economic value through public art.
- Economic Growth and Sustainability. By engaging in public art as a tool for growth and sustainability, communities can thrive economically. Seventy percent of Americans believe that the “arts improve the image and identity” of their community.
- Attachment and Cultural Identity. Public art directly influences how people see and connect with a place, providing access to aesthetics that support its identity and making residents feel appreciated and valued. Aesthetics is one of the top three characteristics why residents attach themselves to a community.
- Artists as Contributors. Providing a public art ecosystem supports artists and other creatives by validating them as important contributors to the community. Artists are highly entrepreneurial. They are 3.5 times more likely than the total U.S. work force to be self-employed.
- Social Cohesion and Cultural Understanding. Public art provides a visual mechanism for understanding other cultures and perspectives, reinforcing social connectivity with others. Seventy-three percent of Americans agree that the arts “helps me understand other cultures better.”
- Public Health and Belonging. Public art addresses public health and personal illness by reducing stress, providing a sense of belonging, and addressing stigmas towards those with mental health issues. Public art is noted as slowing pedestrians down to enjoy their space and providing a positive impact on mood.