Art in public spaces ~ do we have a say in what is installed or not?

Although there are many people who visit Art Galleries, Museums and attend art exhibitions there are probably more who never step into one of these establishments.  Your town, your street, the town square is likely to have some form of art in public spaces however.

Who is art in public spaces for?

The simple answer is that it is for you and me.  The idea for public art is that it commemorates an event or subject.  It is installed to brighten up the landscape, inspire us, make us smile, make us think or admire the craftsmanship of the work.

It therefore begs the question that if it is “public art” as members of the public, should we have a say in what is installed?

In some case we do and for some art in public spaces a competition will be organised.  As members of the public, we will have a say in what is chosen.  Most of the time, the art is chosen by a small group of people who make the decision on our behalf.

Antony Gormley ~ Angel of the North
Antony Gormley ~ Angel of the North

A famous artist will sometimes be commissioned to create and install a piece.  It can also be on a large scale dominating the landscape like Antony Gormley’s “Angel of the North.”  It can also be a conversation piece like “Crosby Beach” also by Antony Gormley.

Installations are normally permanent and are meant to be in place for a long, long time.  There is a move however, to install temporary installations which may be in place for just a few months or a year.  Whatever the timescale, art in public spaces should fit in with the landscape, be of a suitable scale and a conversation piece.

Public installations do not always meet public approval

Sadly, this is not always the case and there are many installations of art in public spaces that do not meet this criteria.  As a conversation piece, they are  talked about for the wrong reasons.

Obviously, art in public spaces is subjective.  We live in a diverse society and we all have different tastes and ideas.  Some public art is just wrong and the majority of people would agree and this causes inevitable controversy.

Antony Gormley ~ Crosby Beach

The main critisism would be that it doesn’t fit in with the surroundings.  The scale of the work is either overpowering, too large or too small and the subject matter is wrong.

Artists,architects, civil leaders and all involved in planning an installation need to involve the public.  The public want to be informed of what is envisaged.  The commissioned artist however, must not be put in a straight jacket so that his creativity and skill is compromised.

A town or city with good art in public spaces is a joy and lifts spirits.  The reverse is true though when public art is just not right.  It lowers the tone of the place.