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In Dialogue with the Public: A Conversation about the Public Experience of Public Art

By May 31, 2024 No Comments

As artists and administrators, we know the experience of art in public space is highly subjective and in the hands of individual viewers, all of whom incorporate their unique perspectives and personal histories into their reception and understanding of public art. For artwork in a gallery setting, so much is carefully composed and controlled: the artists’ statements, the audience, and environmental factors including the prescribed ways art is allowed to be experienced. Whether you happen upon a work of art by chance – perhaps along a transit route, or with intention – such as a visit to a mural-laden district in town – public art exists outside of the confines of a regulated, narrated experience. Within this truth lies both the inherent joy and value of public art, as well as many challenges.

One key area of interest for us at the Public Art Archive is the idea of ownership and the many meanings this term takes across the field. While artists and administrators may create work with a specific set of intentions, when an artwork is installed, a new narrative is constructed as it enters into a dialogue with the public, its setting, and all the events and experiences included therein.  

The public experience with public art can differ greatly from what artists and administrators expected or planned for. While those who have collaborated to bring art to the public sphere may have planned thoroughly to marry the project with the artwork site, history, and surrounding community, there is oftentimes a great disconnect between the intent, how the public engages with the artwork, and eventual impact. In some ways, this is what makes public art distinct from other forms of art – the transfer of ownership, in the physical and metaphorical sense, of public art to the public. The Public Art Archive aims to identify ways to engage the public in the rich complexity of our public art and spaces, collaboratively creating the essential digital space for discovery and community-building in our field. 

On Wednesday, August 14, at 11 AM MST, the Public Art Archive team will host a dialogue to delve into these ideas. Areas the Public Art Archive team plans to discuss with any members of the field and allied professionals and/or enthusiasts who would like to take part include: 

  • Improving access to information
  • Utilizing existing tools and resources to create connections across communities
  • Ensuring that all public art is discoverable and easily accessible with little knowledge but piqued interest 

We invite you to participate in this dialogue with your own experiences so that we can all come out of it with a renewed sense of the collaborative nature of the public art field and how we can work together to collectively improve and enhance the public’s engagement with public art. You must be registered to attend this event. 

We are interested in hearing from you. To help us prepare for this dialogue, here are some leading questions to consider:

  • How can we better integrate the intention of public art with the public experience?
  • How can we measure and contextualize an artwork’s impact?
  • How can we utilize existing resources (like the Public Art Archive) to integrate public art collections so that the public can access information about public art without prior knowledge of what entity owns or created the artwork?
  • What are the benefits of collaboration with tools such as the Public Art Archive in relation to providing a public service?