Cultural Quarterly Magazine Online
On the Arts 10-2011

Public Art and Place = Infinite Value
By Liesel Fenner, ASLA, Public Art Program Manager, Americans for the Arts, Washington, DC
Fenner manages the Americans for the Arts Public Art Network (PAN) the only professional network in the United States dedicated to advancing the field of public art. PAN strengthens efforts to advocate for public art policies and best practice.

Contemporary public art is a wide-ranging art form encompassing both temporary and permanent art forms. Artworks are typically developed as part of a larger construction or development project and administered through a Local Arts Agency. There are more than 350 public art programs across the United States both publicly and privately funded.

Why Public Art?

Public art creates livable communities which attract people to live and work

Public art is an integral component of a successful place. But what creates a successful place? One criterion often asked, ‘what makes one want to live or work there, return to meet friends and hang out?’ More and more people choose where to live not by where a job takes them, but by what a community or the place - offers.

Public art is about how we experience spaces and understand more deeply the place where the work is sited. Public art can reveal a story about a site’s history, what was the place like and the people who live(d) there. The memory of experiencing public art becomes embedded in the minds of the viewer who often when visiting the same space again experience it differently with a deeper understanding and meaning of place.

One project example that typifies the experience of place was recently implemented in Portland, Oregon. With the city-wide success of Portland’s outstanding public art collection, the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) is facing increasing demand from citizens who want public art in their neighborhood. One project that has addressed this demand - The Portland Acupuncture Project. Artist Adam Kuby identified places in Portland important to communities, drawing attention to a specific site or neighborhood and highlighting the interconnectedness between communities. Kuby sited giant acupuncture needles in ten neighborhoods that coincided with a series of community discussion workshops part of the Portland Plan - a 25 year vision plan addressing the city’s growth. Viewers could also download a cell phone app that illustrated the location of the needles throughout the city.

Public art creates jobs and is an investment in a city’s infrastructure, not an expense.

Public art is an investment in infrastructure - a critical issue presently being debated at the federal, state and local levels. Public art integrated within capital construction projects can include plazas, parks, libraries, housing, transportation and other civic infrastructure work. Capital investment that includes public art revitalizes neighborhoods and invigorates improvements to surrounding real estate.

Capital infrastructure investment equals jobs and public art projects create many jobs. A public art project’s total budget is not going to just one artist. As with all construction projects there are many individuals and businesses that benefit including: art fabricators, contractors and installers, material suppliers, consulting engineers and architects and on-site construction managers.

Public art includes lighting, benches and bike racks – integral infrastructure components that are unique and come to define the place in which the work is sited. Note the sculptural grouping of light poles, Sentient Beings in West Hollywood, Calif. by Cliff Garten features fiber optic lighting that changes color throughout the evening. In Nashville, bicyclists can meet at the iconic Microphone Rack by artist Matt Young  

Public art creates tourism destination opportunities

For both municipalities and the private sector, public art enhances a city’s identity and its attractiveness to visitors and residents alike. Public art make passersby stop in their tracks - to look, listen and notice what is different about the space they are experiencing. These ‘ah-ha’ moments become popular through word of mouth, social networking and online media. Art attracts tourists and thus dollars are spent in local shops, restaurants, and hotels supporting the local economy.

 Visitors to Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood were surprised to discover a tunnel archway and frequented pedestrian route transformed into a garden of roses, video projected drawings titled, Camera Rosetum

 All projects cited are from the Public Art Network Year in Review award program that highlight the creativity and diversity of projects being built today. Year in Review project images and information are available in the Americans for the Arts bookstore.


Liesel Fenner, ASLA is the Public Art Program Manager at Americans for the Arts in Washington DC, and develops national programs and services advocating for excellence in art and design in the public realm. She builds partnerships and cultivates leadership through the Public Art Network which has membership of over 1000 art and design professionals. Liesel is a licensed landscape architect (CA) and practiced landscape architecture and urban design in the San Francisco Bay Area. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design and received a Masters of Landscape Architecture degree and a Bachelor’s of Landscape Architecture from the University of California, Davis.

Broward County Cultural Division
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