Public Art and Regeneration
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This article explores the idea of public art, its use and application, and its role in regeneration, which is inextricably linked to tourist activity and interest. Throughout the article examples of best practice have been included.
The article then discusses how public art can be used to enhance destination image and provides recommendations for practitioners to support the use of art as a tool in regeneration and the challenges of ongoing maintenance. Finally it provides a guide to organisations that can help and support arts-based regeneration.
Public art refers to any artwork in any media, which can include everything from films to paintings and theatre to music.
Sometimes this art is simple and straightforward, traditionally taking the form of statues of famous people, or memorials to notable events. Sometimes it is used to soften, enhance or make interesting the appearance of everyday items such as street lighting, park benches and public buildings.
It may be designed to be challenging and controversial or simply to complement new buildings or redevelopments, to brighten up stonework and public spaces, to be funny, different or unique. It “can be static, moving, part of the infrastructure or a projection of light and sound. It can last for a minute, a day, a year or a lifetime” (Public Art South West).
Four years ago English Heritage exhibited in the empty shell of Belsay Hall, a crystal chandelier in the form of a horse, made by Stella McCartney and formed from 8,000 Swarovski crystals. It provided a stunning and delicate contrast with the stone interiors, and formed part of the many modern art exhibitions that have taken place at the property since the 1990s.
Recently the crystal horse has returned for display again at Belsay and continues a tradition of the display of modern art there that started with the ‘Sitooteries’ exhibition of “Eleven temporary structures [which] challenged preconceptions and inspired visitors to the English Heritage property by synthesising the work of artists, architects and designers” (Commissions North, 2009).
Walking along the beach at Aldeburgh in Suffolk it’s hard not to notice the Benjamin Britten memorial sculpture which takes the form of a vast metal shell (The Scallop by Maggi Hambling) and the haunting words "I hear those voices that will not be drowned". It forms a stark but relevant contrast to the pebble beach, bringing together ideas of the natural environment and clearly showing the link between the landscape and the work of the poet who had lived in Aldeburgh, with the words taken from his Opera ‘Peter Grimes’.
Also impressive is Paul Day’s ‘The Meeting Place’, the sculptural centrepiece of the newly redeveloped St Pancras Station in London, complemented by a statue of the poet John Betjeman featuring words from his poetry.
These works of public art have in common their symbolism, their links between heritage and modernity and their position in a public space, outside of the realm of galleries and museums. They perform myriad roles of celebration, commemoration, inspiration, aesthetic interest, public participation and public debate.
Public art is unlikely to be cheap. It isn’t a commodity to be bought ‘off the shelf’. There is a long planning process involving public art, and it is, therefore, often considered as a package of measures aimed at regeneration and requires careful planning.
The roles of public art can be one or many and must demonstrate some linkages to social and economic development to justify public sector investment. The following are examples of this.
- Providing links to the past, which may include a focus on traditional industries or a commemoration of ‘famous’ locals (sculptures at St Pancras and Aldeburgh).
- Providing a vision of the future, to inspire local communities, investors and visitors (Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’).
- Enhancing the current offer and image of a destination (Cardiff Bay).
- To form an attraction in its own right (Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ and Street Artists in York).
- Complementing the natural environment (artist-designed benches, bridges and interpretation panels).
- Involving local communities in the design and development of artwork to enhance civic pride and local ownership (community tapestries, posters and mosaics)
During the regeneration of various coalfields in the UK it was observed (English Partnerships 2005) that:
'public art can play an important role in providing an attractive, high quality environment and in helping to build a new community. Public art can provide a focal point, enhanced sense of place and delight for local residents. To provide added value, the process associated with commissioning the artwork can involve local communities, help build local pride, and help foster social cohesion and community cohesion. '
These are all components of regeneration and the links between public art and regeneration are clear.
This is also supported by Hastings Borough Council (2005) who state that art:
'contributes to social health and well-being by placing a sense of value on individual citizens and by provoking thought and an awareness of the world around them. It elevates and enriches the simple experience of being in a place. This shared experience in public spaces in turn fosters social interaction.'
Hastings Borough Council (2005) similarly summarises the role of public art as a catalyst for regeneration:
'Public art is an important tool for creating successful communities and places. It has a role to play in public business and residential areas. The past decade has seen a renaissance of activity and interest in public art that has been driven by a new urban regeneration agenda. The message is clear: public art aids urban regeneration and has the unique ability to bring together social, economic and physical aspects of urban improvement'
As discussed and illustrated in this article, public art can be and has been used to support regeneration, with the benefits are focussed upon both community cohesion and well-being and the image enhancement and investment that leads to increased tourism and business investment into a region or destination.
As indicated above, there has to be some economic or social benefit to the development and installation of public art. There is research available to demonstrate how effective this has been in other destinations, due to the need to measure the impact and value of publicly commissioned works. Three examples are highlighted here from the Art and Architecture Journal.
The first is in Newcastle where “research into arts tourism has shown that it can play a major part in economic regeneration and in helping to promote a positive image of an area”. The projects in Newcastle Gateshead have “helped improve the environment for local residents and visitors” (Art and Architecture Journal, 2005).
The second identifies the impact of new arts projects in Morecambe that were measured by Lancaster City Council Tourism Department and although the data is some years old the trend it demonstrates is important in illustrating the increase in tourist enquiries (Art and Architecture Journal, 2005):
- 1994 – 73,529 enquiries
- 1995 – Opening of The Stone Jetty 119,946 (+63%)
- 1998 – 144,334 (+20%)
- 1999 – Eric Morecambe statue opened – 253,657 (+76%)
- 2000 – 258,015 (+1.7%);
A third is the Lottery-funded ‘Art of Regeneration’ programme, in Northern Ireland that supports local authorities in the delivery of arts-based projects that “tackle issues of concern to local communities, such as good relations, the environment and anti-social behaviour” and projects have included “functional public art in children’s play areas made out of recycled materials and drawing on the positive experiences of local community groups [and] building on a shared community interest in traditional music to enhance cross-community activity”. (Art and Architecture Journal, 2005)
In all cases art has been a central theme and there is, therefore, a clear rationale for local authorities to use art as a catalyst for regeneration at all levels, from small community projects to major inner city redevelopments. However, there is a need to firstly ensure that the relevant expertise and support is in place to minimise any risks associated with the project.
Another example of good practice is the inclusion of modern architecture in the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay. This major regeneration project which in many ways apes that of Docklands in the 1970s and 1980s sought to revitalise the derelict and unwelcoming Tiger Bay into a major waterfront destination within Wales' Capital City.
The careful restoration of significant historical buildings complemented by the newer architecture of the Millennium Centre (an arts facility), Assembly building and commercial offices has delivered an attractive and well planned destination, interspersed with areas of public performance and public art. What seems to have made the project so successful is the fact that the architecture and associated sculpture and public space have been planned in from the start of the redevelopment.
Charles Quick (artist) comments that “It is essential that artists are supported and encouraged to have a creative input into the regeneration of our cities. If you look at other successful cities across the world you recognise the ones that are proactively encouraging artist activity. They are the cities that people want to visit and remember visiting” (Public Art South West, 2008).
Arts Council England describes three key aspects of developing public art, described below.
- Developmental activities: commission, installation, investment, collaboration, participation, exhibition, performance, intervention, dialogue or theoretical indication.
- Role of public art: architectural collaboration, urban design, social responsibility, cultural regeneration and sustainability
- Regeneration: public art has a ‘cultural function’ through architectural branding and signature buildings, gateways, landmark features and art interventions are now an indispensable part of any city’s cultural and architectural identity.
It is essentially not enough to choose an artist and ask for an inspired piece of work. It is important to consider the commission process. This should be managed as a tender, asking artists for ideas and the rationale that underpins these, considering how they are inspired by their proposed location, purpose and cultural setting.
Badly managed art installations will end up a source of community derision, and may in the end be nothing more than a target for vandals, although in some cases, as discussed later in the article, even this can be part of the art.
The main issues with public art are negative perceptions and vandalism, and consideration needs to be given to how these are managed.
In West Bromwich the uniquely designed ‘The Public’ which includes an art gallery, works as a “groundbreaking versatile public space for people to get together for virtually any purpose – cultural and educational exhibitions, live performances, social relaxation, community activities and clubs and major corporate or entertainment events” (www.thepublic.com). The development has been beset by budget problems, delays and controversy, and has received much news coverage.
Another example is that of the infamous ‘concrete cows’ in Milton Keynes, where publicity has ranged from acclaim to comedic value as they have made the news for ‘vandalism’ that has included painting pyjamas on them and the addition of concrete ‘cow pats’!
It is debatable that negative publicity is a bad thing with artwork, as Tony Dennett (Director of the Sculptors’ Society of Ireland) observes “Where public art really fails is not where there is negative publicity but rather where there is indifference” (Public Art South West 2008). It could be argued that vandalism can form a part of the installation (as with the concrete cows above) and even negative publicity is good for a destination where it is clearly about something that can be seen that does not convey a negative image of the whole place.
It is equally important to firstly consider the ongoing maintenance of any artwork. It either needs to be maintained by the local authority, or by the artist and in either case the funding body must be able to understand the long-term maintenance needs of a sculpture.
Security is a key consideration, and whilst anything that is large and made of steel or concrete is unlikely to be easy to steal, smaller works may be at risk of theft, and all public art could potentially be vandalised. Sculpture in a busy location, especially indoors, is unlikely to be damaged, but outdoor art and rural art are easy targets. CCTV may be one deterrent, but may not be feasible of appropriate.
Alternatives include the provision of ‘graffiti walls’ for local artists to use and the involvement of the local community at the earliest stages of commissioning, together with workshops for the community to be involved in with the artist as a part of the project. This gives ownership of the art back to the community and it is less likely to be damaged. In some instances though, such as Milton Keynes’ cows, humorous vandalism only serves to add to the artwork and to continually raise its profile.
There are some key issues that need to be considered in the planning of public art as part of regeneration projects and these guidelines are designed to support destination managers and local authorities in the successful inclusion of art, especially given the costs of all aspects of the development of public art. Public art is a major investment, so it is essential that it is well planned or public derision may never allow an installation to achieve its stated aims.
The most important consideration is the purpose of the proposed artwork. Identifying the aim and vision for the area is essential as this will outline the ways in which public art can be best designed and managed to ensure it fits with broader aims and objectives.
For example, art used in housing estates needs to involve communities, whereas those in business districts may be sponsored by businesses and in tourist areas most certainly need to fulfil the roles of linking heritage with the future and broadening the traditional audience.
Consider how artwork will be funded. If there are private-sector developers involved in a regeneration scheme, costs of artworks and public space may be delivered through Section 106 Planning Agreements, which secure community benefits to mitigate the impacts of new developments.
The commissioning process is the most important stage. It is essential that this process is transparent and inclusive. Successful projects need to involve community consultation, and in some cases participation in design ideas. The process should be managed as a tender, with submissions comprised of proposed designs, costs and rationale justifying the relationship between the design of the artwork and its proposed location.
To maximise the potential benefits of art work, especially where it forms a part of a regeneration project, relationships with the media need to be carefully managed. Artists are a useful promotional tool, giving interviews and involving communities in workshops.
Once artwork is installed it will need long-term care. Consideration should be given to where responsibility for this lies. If the artwork requires specialist care and maintenance then these costs and requirements need to be understood. It should be made clear within contracts if the artist is responsible for the long-term care of artwork and where this is a requirement then costs should be built in so that the artist is paid to carry out this management.
Finally the legacy of regeneration projects must be managed. There may need to be a strategy for arts development and plans for future installations or changing exhibitions.
Often local authorities employ Arts Development Officers whose specialist expertise can support the development of public arts within regeneration projects. There are many essential relationships for Arts Officers to foster with Planning Officers, Conservation Officers, tourism staff and staff within the regional destination management partnership.
The following resources can serve as a starting point for any organisation considering the inclusion of public arts.
- Art Council England has a vision to “promote the arts at the heart of national life, reflecting England’s rich and diverse cultural identity” to www.artscouncil.org.uk
- The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) will support the involvement of artists in the design of the built environment: RIBA is very keen to support the involvement of artists in the design of the built environment www.architecture.com
- CABE, The Commission for Architecture and The Built Environment “is the government’s advisor on architecture, urban design and public space” and “work with architects, planners, designers, developers and clients, offering them guidance on projects that will shape lives” www.cabe.org.uk
- Public Art South West provides a useful resource for individuals and businesses with an interest in public art and its use in the built environment. www.publicartonline.org.uk
- BURA (British Urban Regeneration Association) Steering Group and Development Forum www.bura.org.uk
- The Civic Trust “seeks to improve the quality of the urban environment in cities, towns and villages across the UK through enterprising partnerships, excellence in design and engaging with the community and supports the involvement of artists as an integral part of achieving this quality” www.civictrust.org.uk
- Toolkits are available to support the development of public arts. Although not recently updated, the Groundwork Arts Toolkit is still relevant and although intended primarily for Groundwork’s staff and artists “explains the process of selecting and working with artists and shows examples of successful arts and regeneration projects”. www.artandregeneration.com
- Free Form is a "an artist-led organisation [delivering] imaginative urban renewal and regeneration through art and design-led solutions to humanise the social and physical environment locally, nationally and increasingly internationally". Their website provides a range of case studies. www.freeform.org.uk
Successful regeneration projects are clearly aligned to the well-planned inclusion of public art although this is not an essential relationship and neither are co-requisites for the other. Art can be used for art's sake, but the key message here is that it is the successful integration of art into regeneration projects that often helps as a catalyst for successful regeneration, creating interesting and enjoyable open spaces.
This does not mean that art installations cannot be installed without regeneration taking place. As the Arts Council England (cf Public Arts South West) points out, public art should enhance our awareness and enjoyment of our environment, help us understand the world in which we live and offer opportunities for artists to interact creatively with people and places. As the Arts Council also identifies “excellent architecture and urban design, distinguishing examples of public art, as well as high quality and well-maintained public space, all contribute to creating local distinctiveness and a sense of place [bringing] people together, they help develop a sense of shared pride and identity which is vital to thriving and integrated communities”.
This is supported by the South West Development Agency (Public Art Online, 2008) who suggest that “Public art should be an integral part of the design process and not an afterthought. It should be considered at the design brief stage” and further evidenced by DCMS (2001) who aim to “promote 100 per cent good design in our public buildings - through the design of the building itself and the green spaces around it or the involvement of artists in the project”.
As Ethan Kane (Public Art South West, 2008) also observes “artists, designers, planners and architects alike must face the challenge of defining public space, as an opportunity to create or improve the sense of community among those who will determine the use, or abandonment of a place”.
- Annabel Jackson Associates (1999) 'Evaluation Of Public Art Projects Funded Under The Lottery: Final report for the Arts Council of England'. Bath
- Arts Council of Northern Ireland (2005) Arts Council Injects £2.4 Million
into Local Arts-Led Regeneration Projects. Belfast [cited 5th February 2009].
- Art and Architecture Journal (2005) Like Art is to art. London [cited 5th February 2009]. (pdf file)
- Arts & Business (2007) Barker & Stonehouse & English Heritage [cited 21st April]
- Commissions North (no date) Belsay Hall: Inflate [cited 21st April]
- Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2001) Culture and Creativity: The Next Ten Years. London: DCMS
- English Partnerships (2005) Creativity in the Coalfields. Warrington: English Partnerships.
Groundwork UK (2004) Groundwork Arts Toolkit.
- Hastings Borough Council (2005) 'A Strategy for Developing Public Arts in Hastings'. Hastings Borough Council Regeneration and Planning Division.
- Public Art South West (2008) Viewpoints. Exeter [cited 5th February 2009]
- St Pancras (2009) St Pancras Arts
Peter Robinson BA(Hons), MA, MTMI, MTS is a senior lecturer at University of Wolverhampton and Course Leader for Work Based Learning, Continuing Professional Development & Entertainment Industries Management, where he has won awards for development of a distance learning course and as an early practitioner in academia.
Previous experience in the public, private and voluntary sectors includes working in management teams in a range of roles that have included Tourism Development Officer, Visitor Services Manager and Tourism Projects Manager.
Peter has also worked as an independent tourism consultant for organisations including Shropshire & Derbyshire County Councils, the National Trust and a number of SMEs. Peter's research interest lies in the field of community-led tourism development, sociology of tourism marketing and pedagogy of distance learning, areas of study in which he is a building a strong portfolio of publications and conference papers.