Blog Posts for May 2012 Blog Salon 2

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.

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Talking Points: Public Art and the Challenge of Evaluation

Posted by Katherine Gressel, May 17, 2012 2 comments

Katherine Gressel

The Challenge of Evaluation

In the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of Public Art Review, Jack Becker writes, “There is a dearth of research efforts focusing on public art and its impact. The evidence is mostly anecdotal. Some attempts have focused specifically on economic impact, but this doesn’t tell the whole story, or even the most important stories.”

Becker’s statement gets at some of the main challenges in measuring the impact of a work of public art—a task which more often than not provokes grumbling from public art administrators. Unlike museums or performance spaces, public art traditionally doesn’t sell tickets, or attract “audiences” who can easily be counted, surveyed, or educated.

A public artwork’s role in economic revitalization is difficult to separate from that of its overall surroundings. And as Becker suggests, economic indicators of success may leave out important factors like the intrinsic benefits of experiencing art in one’s everyday life.

However, public art administrators generally agree that some type of evaluation is key in not only making a case for support from funders, but in building a successful program.

Is there a reliable framework that can be the basis of all good public art evaluation? And what are some simple yet effective evaluation methods that most organizations can implement?

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Public Art Evaluation: An Ongoing Process

Posted by Alison Spain, May 17, 2012 0 comments

"Wave Arbor" by Doug Hollis at Long Bridge Park in Arlington, VA.

(Author's Note: This post builds upon prior pieces by Dr. Elizabeth Morton and Angela Adams.)

I enrolled in Dr. Morton’s Exploring Evaluation for Public Art studio as a way to complement my experience as a working artist-art educator with a limited sense of the planning and evaluation process for public art. Over the course of the studio I came to see evaluation not as a zero sum game meant to occur after installation, but rather as an ongoing series of assessments conducted by and for major stakeholders, including, but not limited to, the intended audience.

While public art evaluation clearly includes examining the perceptions of the general public, it must also examine the processes and decisions that influence, direct, and ultimately, commission, new works.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this studio was the opportunity for cross-disciplinary dialogue created by the intentional interface of urban planners, designers (in this case, architecture & landscape architecture students), artists, and arts administrators.

Each of these roles fulfills an important and different function in the life cycle of the public art project; yet all too often we work in isolation from one another and/or use language that is particular to one discipline and foreign to another. The studio proved to me that we have a great deal to learn from one another and that increased cross-disciplinary collaboration will continue to yield exciting new contributions to the field of public art evaluation.

For example, as a predominantly 2D artist moving into the more design-based role of the landscape architect, the concept of site analysis took on an expanded meaning. From a conventional fine arts perspective, a site is a location where an artwork is placed, not necessarily a place that an artwork might inhabit over time. Artists would clearly benefit from the designer’s perspective of understanding site as an ongoing process, with multiple actors; yet this is a concept that is rarely discussed in undergraduate or graduate level art programs.

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Artists Evaluating Our Own Public Art

Posted by Mr. Lajos Heder, May 17, 2012 0 comments

Lajos Heder

Evaluation is a different issue for artists creating commissioned work than for administrators running a public art program.

In my view, the administrator needs positive public feedback to politically (and financially) support the program. As artists we need feedback that help us become better artists.

It is much easier to imagine an evaluation of a whole program than to measure the value of a single artwork.

As artists we are all somewhat eccentric in our art making process. We combine research and rational thought with personal intuitions and observations in our own unique ways. We invent things that have not existed before.

Members of the public, who have not seen anything exactly like it before may love it or hate it at first sight. They may adapt to love it, or get bored over time. People who say they love the art, may never pay much attention after the first look. Others who are uncomfortable may eventually come around and gain something important.

My experience is that a large percentage of people pay very little attention to public art.

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Collaboration Improves Local Arts Agency's Public Art Program

Posted by Ms. Angela A. Adams, May 16, 2012 1 comment

Angela Adams

Arlington County's public art program benefited greatly from our collaborative effort with Virginia Tech and Americans for the Arts mentioned in Dr. Elizabeth Morton's post from earlier this week.

Like many programs across the country, we are adjusting to the new normal of increased scrutiny of public spending as it relates to the arts. We are also adjusting to our recent relocation from the Department of Parks and Recreation to that of Arlington Economic Development and are just beginning to understand the difference in priorities between the two agencies and how these will impact our future work.

We are currently working on developing a white paper on the value of public art to Arlington through four lenses: community and social benefits; civic design and placemaking; economic; and aesthetic/experiential.

It is helpful that the field of economics has begun to look seriously at developing measurement tools for such intangible phenomena as human happiness or fulfillment as well as the intrinsic value of the arts, so there is an increasing body of literature to draw from here. The findings of the Virginia Tech students will similarly help us in making the case for how and why public art adds value to our community.

To summarize some of the more interesting (even surprising) findings of the four teams discussed in the previous post and their value to Arlington's public art program:

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