Multiple Interpretations & Approaches to Public Art Evaluation

Posted by Liesel Fenner, May 18, 2012 0 comments

Liesel Fenner

A ‘lucky 13’ total number of public art blog posts were published this week from public art administrators, artists, designers, educators, and students.

Thank you to everyone in the Public Art Network (PAN) community for contributing and sharing the posts with your networks. Let us know your thoughts on the Blog Salon (you can view all 13 posts with this link) and future public art topics that you would like to see discussed through blog posts, webinars, and other information resources.

A cogent comment by Barbara Goldstein asked “does it work?” and emphatically stated, “It would be virtually impossible to measure whether one work of art has an economic impact in a specific place.” When public art administrators are asked for public art economic impact studies from elected officials, city commissions, and constituents it is incumbent on the public art program to look more deeply at how the artworks work within the larger urban and cultural context.

As Goldstein proposed, “questions that can be asked are more subtle—what makes a specific place memorable? Can you describe what you experience there and how it makes you feel? What do you think when you see a particular artwork? Does it improve your experience of this place?”

Studies are tackling the challenging approach of how to cull one’s personal experience of place, as Penny Balkin Bach introduced us to The Knight Foundation and Gallup Corporation’s Soul of the Community study that states, “community attachment creates an emotional connection to place.” The study determined that the key drivers of attachment are social offerings, openness, and the aesthetics of place—all attributes of public art.

Aesthetics! Always a delicate topic to venture into at all stages of public art commissioning, however, Virgina Tech student of Exploring Evaluation for Public Art Alison Spain posed: “how can we expect the public to evaluate an artwork without a basic understanding of design language? If we know that an informed user is a more enthusiastic user, how might better art literacy change the perception of, and ultimately support public art and public art funding? How might we incorporate literacy into all stages of the public art process, beyond a small plaque that is often overlooked?” Plaques can’t provide this information, nor does it detail what went into the creation of the art work.

Rebecca Rothman of the Phoenix Public Art Program cites their thorough tracking of everyone who works on a project. “These people equal JOBS…from fabricators to material suppliers…we’ve asked artists and design leads to list each subcontractor they hire…then we ask the contractor to do the same.”

Brandi Reddick reminded us that “art is an investment." The Miami-Dade program has commissioned some of the most significant contemporary artists in the world to create one of a kind, site-specific works of art...these works only reflect a percentage of their current value.”

Public art programs are often the catalyst to launch an emerging artist art career through the commissioning of their first work in public space. Supporting the next generation is greatest benefit we as public art professionals can do to advance the field.

PAN will continue to share information approaches to evaluation as it becomes available (Americans for the Arts members, make sure to stay tuned to the PAN listserv for that info and much more).

Also, consider joining us in-person at the PAN Preconference prior to the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in San Antonio, June 7-8 as advance registration is open until next, Wednesday, May 23! (After that, you can still join us, but must register on-site!)

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