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Friday Fun: Public art for brighter cities
Public art can help shape vibrant, cohesive communities. What role does art play in your city? Photo by João Perdigão/Flickr.

Public art can help shape vibrant, cohesive communities. What role does art play in your city? Photo by João Perdigão/Flickr.

Cities in the United States can now participate in the Public Art Challenge, a new program to support innovative temporary public art projects by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The program invites U.S. cities with 30,000 or more residents to submit proposals for creative and transformative projects. The challenge aims to improve quality of life in cities and to reposition art at the core of society. At least three cities will be granted up to USD 1 million each over two years for art projects that engage their communities, establish public-private partnerships, and drive economic development. The challenge is part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ goal to strengthen the arts in cities worldwide. Bloomberg Philanthropies also recently supported São Paulo Bienal – the world’s second largest art show – through funding an app for the event, Bienal’s teacher education program, and exhibitions that will be accessible to the public in 10 to 15 Brazilian cities. These efforts help bring attention to the role of art in shaping public spaces for healthy, vibrant cities.

The need for public art funding

From improving traffic safety to drawing attention to social justice issues, public art plays an important role in advancing social missions in cities. In 2011, TheCityFix covered a favela beautification project in Rio de Janeiro by Dutch artistic duo Haas&Hahn, which counteracted the negative imagery of informal settlements. But artists like Haas&Hahn face great difficulty in securing funding. And in the United States, funding for the arts is on the decline. According to a 2013 report, United States government funding of the arts dropped by more than 30% from 1992 to 2013, adjusted for inflation. Bloomberg’s Public Art Challenge comes at an important time to remind us of the importance of public art funding.

This art project engaged residents to strengthen community identity and counteract the negative perceptions of Rio’s favelas. Photo by Leonel Ponce/Flickr.

This art project engaged residents to strengthen community identity and counteract the negative perceptions of Rio’s favelas. Photo by Leonel Ponce/Flickr.

A key feature of city landscapes and urban identity

Public arts are the core of civic life in cities worldwide. Art brings community members together and makes it easy for people to share, connect and experiment. Candy Chang, an artist trained in urban planning, engaged her community by initiating the Before I Die walls in her neighborhood. Anyone walking by these walls can pick up a piece of chalk and share their personal aspirations in public space by finishing the sentence: “Before I die I want to _______.” According to the artist’s website, the Before I Die walls have been created in over 30 languages and over 60 countries, including Kazakhstan, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Iraq, Argentina, and South Africa.

Residents share their personal aspirations with their community at this Before I Die wall in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. Photo by Clint McMahon/Flickr.

Residents share their personal aspirations with their community at this Before I Die wall in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. Photo by Clint McMahon/Flickr.

Art can shape a city’s identity, give residents ownership over their community, and even spur economic growth. Last year, tourists flooded Hong Kong to see a giant Rubber Duck installation floating on the West Kowloon waterfront, with over 38,000 visiting the exhibition in the five days after it was unveiled. A local travel agency even sold package tours to see them. The inflatable sculpture was created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman in 2007, and has appeared in dozens of cities worldwide attracting millions of visitors.

In addition to generating enormous excitement wherever it travels, the giant rubber duck sculpture shows the role of public art for economic stimulus. Photo by Ricky Chan/Flickr.

In addition to generating enormous excitement wherever it travels, the giant rubber duck sculpture shows the role of public art for economic stimulus. Photo by Ricky Chan/Flickr.

The measure of a great city lies in its cultural life. Public art can unite a community and be a magnet for tourism. More importantly, it helps educate and inspire our citizens to take ownership over their cities by creatively re-imaging public spaces. The Public Art Challenge hopes to reclaim the cultural element that is essential to our daily life and makes our cities more livable.

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