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Art, for Public’s Sake

Public works of art are prominent in cities and places throughout the world and the United States. Unlike private works of art, viewing public art is free and nonexclusive; you just have to be where the art is. Public works of art aim to enrich the community by evoking meaning and purpose in the public setting.

Types of Public Art
There are five types of public art: integrated, semi-integrated, discrete, community art and ephemeral art. Integrated public art draws inspiration from the location and could not exist anywhere else. Integrated public art uses the location’s history, culture and social circumstances that make the work of art distinctly a part of the community. Semi-integrated public art gathers its inspiration, to a certain degree, from the location, but is not necessarily mutually exclusive to that area; the piece of art works in different locations, provided the locations share the same conceptual and physical locations.

Discrete works of public art are not integrated with a certain area, therefore having no conceptual or physical dependence on the location. Community art focuses on the community’s belief system; these works of public art often have a community-based design and allow people to express their goals or problems. Community public art helps bring people’s experiences in the community into the work of art itself.

Ephemeral public art is temporary, is designed specifically for an occasion or event and is transitory in nature. The Gates exhibit in Central Park during February of 2005 is an example of ephemeral public art.
The purpose behind public art is to enrich the community by evoking meaning in the public forum. Public artwork is meant to inspire higher thought about the community, or thought in general, and can help raise awareness or give remembrance to events. Public artwork is meant to be seen, but more so experienced, as a work of art can help inspire and provide perspective no matter what the subject at hand.


There is no true way to find the value of public art, as there are no real ways to measure inspiration or insight that any public artwork may help inspire. Public art is there to be experienced, and the beauty of art is that if a hundred people all see the same artwork, there could be a hundred different ideas and interpretations of the same work. It is important when gauging a value of a public artwork to take in account the effect it has on the community it is in and how members of the community view the artwork; this is the best way to find the value of a specific piece of public artwork in a community.
Public art offers social and physical benefits. Public art, depending on its size, can act as an impromptu meeting place or local hangout. Sometimes the public artwork will also shine a light onto a particular event rooted deep within the community, acting as a talking point for an important social conversation for the community. Public art is also a sign of maturation and identity within a community.
Public art is available in most towns and communities in America and throughout Europe. You probably see some sort of public art every day; whether it be a memorial, statue, fountain or picture, public art surrounds and enlivens the world we live in. There is usually a flux of public art in most cities; cities are an effective showcase for artists, since their work will be seen by many people.


Here are ten reasons to support art in your community in the coming year:

1. True prosperity…The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. The arts help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age. When times are tough, art is salve for the ache.

2. Improved academic performance…Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, lower drop-out rates, and even better attitudes about community service—benefits reaped by students regardless of socio-economic status. Students with four years of arts or music in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with one-half year or less.
3. Arts are an industry…Arts organizations are responsible businesses, employers, and consumers. Nonprofit arts organizations generate $135 billion in economic activity annually, supporting 4.1 million jobs and generating $22.3 billion in government revenue. Investment in the arts supports jobs, generates tax revenues, promotes tourism, and advances our creativity-based economy.

4. Arts are good for local merchants…The typical arts attendee spends $24.60 per person, per event, not including the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, and babysitters. Attendees who live outside the county in which the arts event takes place spend twice as much as their local counterparts ($39.96 vs. $17.42)—valuable revenue for local businesses and the community.

5. Arts are the cornerstone of tourism…Arts travelers are ideal tourists—they stay longer and spend more. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers including museum visits on their trip has increased from 17 to 23 percent since 2003, while the share attending concerts and theater performances increased from 13 to 16 percent (only 7 percent include a sports event).

6. Arts are an export industry…U.S. exports of arts goods (e.g., movies, paintings, jewelry) grew to $64 billion in 2010, while imports were just $23 billion—a $41 billion arts trade surplus in 2010.

7. Building the 21st Century workforce…Reports by the Conference Board show creativity is among the top 5 applied skills sought by business leaders—with 72 percent saying creativity is of high importance when hiring. The biggest creativity indicator? A college arts degree. Their Ready to Innovate report concludes, “…the arts—music, creative writing, drawing, dance—provide skills sought by employers of the 3rd millennium.”

8. Healthcare…Nearly one-half of the nation’s healthcare institutions provide arts programming for patients, families, and even staff. 78 percent deliver these programs because of their healing benefits to patients—shorter hospital stays, better pain management, and less medication.

9. Stronger communities…University of Pennsylvania researchers have demonstrated that a high concentration of the arts in a city leads to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher child welfare, and lower poverty rates. A vibrant arts community ensures that young people are not left to be raised solely in a pop culture and tabloid marketplace.

10. Creative Industries…The Creative Industries are arts businesses that range from nonprofit museums, symphonies, and theaters to for-profit film, architecture, and design companies. An analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data counts 905,689 businesses in the U.S. involved in the creation or distribution of the arts that employ 3.35 million people—representing 4.4 percent of all businesses and 2.2 percent of all employees, respectively (get a Creative Industry report for your community on our site).


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