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Thinking About the Impact of Public Art

Chris Dwyer

I was impressed that so many posts during the Blog Salon have tackled the challenge of assessing the impact of public art—a particularly challenging area for building indicators of impact.

Several years ago I heard Richard Florida describe public art in terms of community image when making a point about vital cities, i.e. those that attract entrepreneurs and visitors and earn the loyalty of their residents.

The idea of assessing impact through the eyes of strangers intrigues me:

What does a collection of public art convey to those who don’t know the city? Does it say those who live here…

  • …are willing to take a risk?
  • …like to try new things?
  • …are open to new ideas?
  • …have a sense of whimsy?

We can perhaps all imagine cities we’ve visited where public art conveyed exactly those impressions of a new locale.

A worthy impact for the investment and not so difficult to measure.

Seeing the messages of public art through the eyes of a younger generation may offer a similar window into the impact of public art.

I thought about this when reflecting on the reactions to a temporary street art exhibit in our community last summer—typically met with delight by young people and bewilderment by their parents.

Young people were delighted with public art that spoke to them. So, here’s another possibility for viewing impact. How does the community’s public art speak to young people? Does it say those who live here…

  • …have a sense of humor?
  • …welcome different points of view?
  • …understand young people?
  • …like to have a good time?

We could ask similar questions with various perspectives in mind.

Do you have any more suggested questions and answers communities may ask about their public art?

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