Collaborative, Creative Placemaking: Good Public Art Depends on Good Public Spaces (2024)

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By Fred Kent and Cynthia Nikitin

This article firstappeared in Issue 45 ofPublic Art Review.

“It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people; what is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.” William H. (Holly) Whyte

During the past two or more decades, communities around the country have fallen victim to the relentless machinations of a group of people with an overdeveloped, overspecialized “creative function,” who see themselves as experts rather than collaborators or service providers. In the face of these experts and their implicit authority, communities have been intimidated and made to feel impotent. The public has been convinced to leave the creative function solely in the hands of the specially trained—namely architects, artists, and designers—and to abdicate its role in nurturing the creative life of the city. As a result, the communal psyche has atrophied and the public realmhas suffered. Projects—whether public art,public parks, or public transportation—designed without the community in mind have provoked fierce criticism by host communities. That criticism is based on, among other things, a lack of trust in the motives of the professionals involved, who often serve something other than the public good and whose priorities are often different from those of the community.

That’s the bad news. At the same time, there is more happening in public art today to engage with the public space in which works are sited. More than ever before, public artworks are stimulating and inviting active dialogue rather than just passive observation, thereby fostering social interaction that can even lead to a sense of social cohesion among the viewers themselves. Maybe this is happening because some planners, artists, and architects are no longer afraid to see themselves as resources, facilitators, and collaborators, rather than as experts. In such cases, the design of art in public spaces moves away from reverence for textbook ideals and toward flexibility, changeability, evolution, and an appreciation for humanity.

"...planners, artists, and architects are no longer afraid to see themselves as resources, facilitators, and collaborators..."

We salute this new paradigm, one in which designers actually welcome the opportunity to work with communities to open up places for new interpretations, creating more room for public art—especially in parks, transforming them from ersatz cemeteries and static sculpture gardens into great multi-use public destinations.

Collaborative, Creative Placemaking: Good Public Art Depends on Good Public Spaces (2)

The success of a work of public art relies heavily upon the design of the public space in which it is located. Many elements come together to improve or make a good public space. If you have a work of public art, but the site is not well maintained, people do not feel safe there. If there are no design amenities or elements like seating or shade, if there’s nowhere to eat or nothing to do once you get there, if you can’t walk to the site or park your car due to heavy traffic or a poor pedestrian environment or because it’s not connected to other places or destinations, people will not take time out to visit the work of art, and the artwork will have failed as a placemaker and a community enhancement.

A good public space, on the other hand, is not only inviting, but builds a place for the community around an artwork, or culture venue, by growing and attracting activities that make it amulti-use destination. Alone, no designer, architect, or artist can create a great publicspace that generates and sustains stronger communities. Instead, such spaces arise from collaboration with the users of the place who articulate what they value about it and assist the artist in understanding its complexity.

"Public art projects will be most effective when they are part of alarger, holistic, multidisciplinary approach to enlivening a city or neighborhood."

Public art projects that engage the community in aspects of the art-making process can provide communities with the means to improve their environment and the opportunity to develop a sense of pride and ownership over their parks, streets, and public institutions. Ultimately, however, public art projects will be most effective when they are part of alarger, holistic, multidisciplinary approach to enlivening a city or neighborhood. In this way, public art can contribute both to community life and to the service and vitality of public spaces. This is the promise of the emerging "Creative Placemaking" movement.

Related PPS articles and resources:

  • ‘Bring to Light’ Reimagines Public Space With Artistic Spectacle
  • Design and Review Criteria for Public Art
  • Funding for Public Art
  • Using PR to Develop a Public Art Program
  • How Art Economically Benefits Cities

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Collaborative, Creative Placemaking: Good Public Art Depends on Good Public Spaces (2024)

FAQs

What is the role of public art in placemaking? ›

Placemaking is an important tool in integrating arts and culture into community design to create engaging, inclusive public spaces. Every public place should be designed to attract people with creative, discoverable elements that make visiting fun and exciting.

Why is it important to have artwork in public spaces? ›

Public art can be a key factor in establishing a unique and culturally active place. Public art can create civic icons, but it also can transform our playgrounds, train stations, traffic circles, hospitals, water treatment facilities, and airports into more vibrant expressions of human imagination.

Why is public art created specifically for a public space? ›

Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression.

What is a placemaking project for public spaces? ›

Placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community. Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.

What are the benefits of creative placemaking? ›

Importance of Creative Placemaking and Art
  • Beautification and Attractiveness. ...
  • Sparking Engagement. ...
  • Inviting and Welcoming Spaces. ...
  • Interaction With the Community. ...
  • Cultural Connections. ...
  • Creating Opportunities for Artists. ...
  • Bolstering Local Character. ...
  • Improve Economic Activity.
Feb 27, 2023

What is an example of creative placemaking? ›

This could involve a painter, musician, sculptor, historian, architect – or any other expression of “arts and culture”. The project could be many things including a mural, a street carnival, busker musicians on a street corner, or a public art sculpture about the place's history.

Why are public spaces important? ›

Public areas shape community ties in neighborhoods. They are places of encounter and can facilitate political mobilization, stimulate actions and help prevent crime. They are environments for interaction and exchange of ideas that impact the quality of the urban environment.

What are the positive effects of public art? ›

public space enhancement, • an environment more conducive to business development, • increased property values, • growth in cultural tourism, • town identity as an arts and culture destination, • connecting artists with the local community, • growth in citizen pride in a renewed sense of place.

What is the power of public art? ›

Public art has the power to transform environments, uplifting and bringing communities together, especially spaces that have been overlooked or neglected.

What is a public space art? ›

A public artwork is an artwork in any medium, planned and executed outside a gallery context and intended specifically for exhibition within public space. Public spaces are generally open and accessible to all.

How can art bring communities together? ›

Culture generates social capital and strengthens a community's character. Art brings people together physically — at galleries, museums, performance spaces — and culturally, through its capacity to tell a community's shared story, to inspire reflection, and form connections that transcend differences.

How does street art affect public spaces? ›

Through street art, in many cases, public spaces are transformed into places for entertainment, cultural activities, or areas of protests and expression of the feelings and ideas.

What are the 4 pillars of placemaking? ›

West says there are four key design components to placemaking—theme, active transportation, gateway and signage, and amenities.

What is creative placemaking strategy? ›

In creative placemaking, public, private, not-for-profit, and community sectors partner to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.

What are the four types of placemaking? ›

For the time being, the simplest definition will suffice: “Placemaking is the process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play and learn in.” Later I will define “Strategic Placemaking,” “Creative Placemaking,” and “Tactical Placemaking” and explain how each differs from the standard “placemaking ...

What is the role of public artworks? ›

Public Art within a community has cultural, social, and economic value. It's a reflection of our society and part of the public history and evolving culture within an area. Not only does it add meaning to spaces it allows communities to exhibit their uniqueness.

What is the role of public art in the future? ›

The role of public art extends beyond aesthetic value and serves as a tool for community building, storytelling, and placemaking. This article will examine the significance of public art in public spaces, how it acts as a catalyst for placemaking, and the impact of public art in public settings.

What is the role of culture in placemaking? ›

Culture provides people with ways to explore, celebrate and create shared experiences. It brings depth and meaning to people's experience of a place, highlighting the extraordinary in the ordinary. Councils are uniquely placed to facilitate and drive placemaking activity.

What was the purpose of the public works of art project? ›

The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), the first of the New Deal art programs, was established under the Department of the Treasury in December 1933 to assist unemployed artists by enabling them to work on the decoration of non-federal public buildings.

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