Public Art – What Is The Point?

Public art comes in many shapes and sizes. From the monumental to the ephemeral, or the architecturally integrated to the suspended enhancement, the form and function of public art is many and varied. Commissioners and artists alike explore places and spaces through public art in a variety of ways but – what is the point of public art?

When thinking about why public art is commissioned for space or place, it’s difficult to define one key purpose for its inclusion because it can serve many. Traditionally, art signified power but it has evolved greatly and now serves to bring people together, define a space and authenticate an identity.

Public art aids social inclusion by offering a tangible element within space or place that brings people together. In what is a true democratisation of art, the public element of these artworks means they can be accessed by anyone and everyone 24 hours a day. Public art encourages human interaction, with each other, with the artwork and with the space. An artwork’s ability to delight, challenge, enrage, explain, beautify and tell stories may also prompt discussion among those at the site and with others who have visited it.

Emily Floyd’s Jackalope is a signature and landmark statement that reinforces the hotel brand but also engages and delights visitors – a true talking point. Photo: Roger D’Souza Photography.

The very existence of public art helps to define a space by giving us a point of reference. It transforms the space it’s in and by doing so serves to differentiate one public space from another. Public art’s recent focus on the experiential also encourages those viewing an artwork to interact with the space differently. Take, for example, Lindy Lee’s series of sandstone and cast bronze sculptures in Sydney’s China Town. They offer a place for workers to sit, children to climb and friends to meet, in what used to be a grungy part of the city where people seldom dwelled.

Public art helps in the creation of an authentic and genuine identity for a place. Public artworks contribute to the projection of a desired image, which can be used to market a specific location. This branding brings with it social and economic benefits as it can be used to nation build, promote cultural tourism and enhance pride of place among residents.

Nike Savvas’ Papillon was commissioned by the Barangaroo Delivery Authority (BDA) as part of its Arts and Culture Place Activation Strategy. The temporary installation reinforced the BDA’s commitment offered residents, workers and visitors of the newly developed precinct of Sydney’s CBD a cultural intervention that helps define a sense of place. Photo: Jamie Williams Photography.

Whether it be changing a place, inspiring conversation or helping to define an identity, public art serves many purposes. Overall, it encourages us to connect more deeply with our physical surrounds to come to a better understanding of place.

UAP Senior Associate | Senior Curator | STUDIO, Owen Craven. View the full webinar presented in collaboration with UAP Senior Principal | Middle East, Ms Chetana Andary.