Any work, irrespective of its medium, that is showcased in open public spaces is referred to as Public art. The beautiful sculptures you see on your drive to work, in open lawns, walkways, busy intersections, prominent regions of the city all add up to this form of art. The intention of such art forms are simply to make art more accessible to the masses; to people of all walks of life.
Cities gain value through public art – cultural, social, and economic value. Public art is a distinguishing part of our public history and our evolving culture. It reflects on our society adding meaning to our spaces and a unique quality to our communities. Public art humanizes the environment and invigorates public spaces. It provides an intersection between past, present and future, between disciplines, and between ideas. Public art in most cases is freely accessible.
Most urban Indian cities and towns aspire to become places that people want to live in and enjoy visiting. A particular community identity, especially in terms of what the towns looks like, is becoming more important in a world where every place tends to looks like every other. Places with strong public art break the monotony, giving communities a stronger sense of purpose and identity. When we think about memorable places, we think about their icons – consider the Lodhi art district in New Delhi, the totem poles of Vancouver, the heads at Easter Island. All of these were works by artists who captured the spirit and atmosphere of their cultural milieu. Without the presence such works there would be a gap in our human identities. Like for example, think of the world without Mozart’s sonatas, or Kant’s notes on the world or Thoreau’s words.
Public art is a reflection of its place and time. It acts as a marker in all human settlements. Artworks like Cloud Gate in Chicago's Millennium Park are intertwined with our images of those cities. Transient artworks, like the ‘flying bus’ in Mumbai or the recent transformation of the Sasoon docks, have become memorable moments in time, captured in picture postcards and in family photo albums. Public art activates the imagination and encourages people to pay attention and perceive more deeply the environment they occupy. Public art stimulates learning and makes us step out of our daily routines to think about art, society and our interconnected lives. Public art is uniquely accessible and enables people to experience art in the course of their daily life, outside of museums or other cultural institutions. Public art provides everyone in the community direct and ongoing encounters with art. It engages social interaction—both during the selection process and following installation. And, an artwork can lead the viewer toward self-reflection and awareness.
Data strongly indicates that cities with an active and dynamic cultural scene are more attractive to individuals and businesses. Public art can be a key factor in establishing a unique and culturally active place. It can create civic icons, but it can also transform our playgrounds, train stations, traffic circles, hospitals and airports into more vibrant expressions of human imagination. By building and reinforcing community culture, public art can act as a catalyst for community development and enhancement. The scale of such art is not always the primary focus, its purpose, intention and the emotion it invokes are more important. Public art is often prominent, permanent and purposeful as an art experience; but it can also be subtle, ephemeral or frivolous.
All said and done, Public art matters because it influences our lives on a daily basis and inspires us.