Public Art Takes Many Forms, Meets Many Needs

The expression of public art and its purpose is evolving as artists and downtown leaders expand the definition to encompass new formats. Underfoot or overhead, a treat for the eyes, ears, or all of the senses, public art is an integral part of many successful downtowns.

Barbara Goldstein, a placemaking and public art planning consultant offers a practical definition of public art: the placement of art in the public realm for the enjoyment and inspiration of diverse stakeholders.

“It can be the placement of a freestanding artwork. It can be something that’s integrated into the environment in a preplanned and thoughtful way. It can be something that’s there temporarily. But the main issue is that it’s in the public realm, and it’s there for the enjoyment of the people that are going to be passing through the public realm,” she says.

That public realm includes outdoor gathering spaces, streets, sidewalks, trails, public lobbies, parks, libraries and other public buildings, publicly visible walls, and transit systems.

The scope of public art today is equally broad and can be seen in the vast variety of inspiring projects honored in the Americans for the Arts Year in Review recognition program.

Several of the 50 works selected for recognition in 2018 are located in city centers and highlight the range of public art.

In one example, a project called SF Bay Guardians embraces the educational possibilities of public art. This series of six unique temporary murals is installed on the sidewalks next to storm drain grates in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood. Each mural shows an animal common to the San Francisco Bay standing guard in front of a storm drain to protect it from trash and debris.

More on public art, shade as an economic development tool, and nurturing the nighttime economy appears in the August issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Click below to learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange and other resources for revitalizing downtowns and commercial corridors.

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