The importance of public art for municipalities

  The Waterloo Bell (Bell for Kepler)  by Royden Rabinowitch, 2009. More info on a self-guided public art tour Uptown Waterloo  here .

The Waterloo Bell (Bell for Kepler) by Royden Rabinowitch, 2009. More info on a self-guided public art tour Uptown Waterloo here.

I love public art for its ability to bring people out, to bring people together, and to challenge the status quo. These are some of the reasons I applied to join the Region of Waterloo’s Public Art Advisory Committee five years ago, a committee I am currently the chair of.

The arts play an essential role in our community beyond economic development even though they do that too. As a city councillor I will continue to push for a robust arts and culture sector in which artists takes the lead.

To get an even better understanding about the role and benefits of public art for municipalities, I asked someone who has advised in large-scale urban public art projects to answer a few questions. Here’s what they had to say.


WHAT VALUE DOES PUBLIC ART OFFER TO MUNICIPALITIES?

Public art can offer lots of different benefits—from simply adding beauty to a space, to encouraging new ways of looking at or using public spaces. I’m thinking of public art pieces that are also functional (lighting, seating, or play structures) or artworks that add a focal point or place to gather in a public space.

Visiting public artworks can also draw city residents and visitors alike to get to know areas beyond their own neighbourhood. And if an art piece is produced with local engagement—either through working with a local artist, going through a community consultation process, or having local histories incorporated into the piece, are just a few ways this can happen— when local communities and residents are involved in the creation of the work at any stage, there can be a strengthened sense of local pride and feeling of shared ownership in the community.

HOW SHOULD PUBLIC CONSULTATION BE INCORPORATED INTO A CITY’S PUBLIC ART STRATEGY?  

Ideally, a city’s strategy will involve local resident outreach in pre-concept project stages to determine foundational directions around which locations are suitable for public art and where there is an appetite for public art.

Even simply providing resources on how to do public consultation effectively is useful, as it’s not something artists always know how to do. Or providing incentives to consult—one example I can think of is in Toronto, there is a specific street art funding stream that requires two public consultations to take place. When someone applies for the funding they have to outline how they plan to do public consultation, and when the project is finished, they report on how they did it.

These are a few different modes of consultation, and the most suitable one will depend on both the conditions of the project and the artist’s practice. These methods can also be used in conjunction with each other. There are advantages and drawbacks to each approach.

  • The concepts/themes for the piece can be informed by local consultation—brainstormed & then agreed/voted on.

  • An artist can present a concept sketch at a public meeting, to solicit feedback on it from attendees (this is perhaps the most common, and what people picture when they imagine a public consultation)

  • Any other ways artists and communities can think of!

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS CITY COUNCILLORS SHOULD ASK TO ENSURE THAT PUBLIC ART IS PLANNED AND IMPLEMENTED WELL IN MUNICIPALITIES?

Here’s what I’d ask if I were a city councillor!

  • What is the relevance to the surrounding residents & community of A) having a public artwork at all and B) this particular artwork?

  • How can I foster relationships between artists and communities?

Jen Vasic