Public Art and Hyperlocality

Public art and hyper-locality make our personality

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Public art, at its core, is more than a littering of aesthetically pleasing installations. It’s a placemaking strategy that, when used effectively, can promote a community’s personality and communicate its values. As the National Endowment for the Arts outlines in their recent report, How to do Creative Placemaking, “art is a resiliency mechanism for neighborhoods and communities facing change that threatens to overwhelm them.” Art has the unique ability to strengthen “the capacity of residents to exercise voice, agency and ownership over their community affairs [which] is essential to their ability to create communities that they value.”

Art has an economic benefit as well. The arts and cultural sector is a $730 billion-dollar industry, representing about 4.2% of the nation’s GDP–a larger share of the economy than transportation, tourism and agriculture. In northeast Indiana, it supports over 18,000 earning more than $430 million in wages. But how can art have an impact on our placemaking strategies?

The answer might be found in an idea called “hyper-locality.” As our attachment to the places we inhabit grows, so does our instinct to reduce the geographic limits of how we define “local.” For example, it’s no longer exciting to have an Indiana-owned brewpub. It’s likely not even enough to have a Fort Wayne-owned brewpub. We want a neighborhood-owned establishment, one that is intimately connected to our sense of place and proximity. In this way, “local” no longer feels sufficient. Good places demand amenities that are hyper-local. And nothing accomplishes this better than art.

The challenge is to understand how public art can serve not only as an economic development tool, but to utilize murals, sculptures, and performances as effective barometers for hyper-local placemaking. Public art initiatives are complicated endeavors. However, with a proper framework, they can transform a community. Patricia Walsh, a public art programs manager at Americans for the Arts, describes five critical lessons all public art programs should consider:

The Public Comes First. Community engagement is critical to successful public art. These interactions can range from small committees to large-scale community input, but the key to “public art” is the “public.”
The Process is Equally as Important as the Outcome. While the finished piece of art is what often gets the most attention, the community’s exposure to the process is what serves as the catalyst for continued interest.
Plan for the Care and Maintenance of a Public Artwork. Like any good civic investment, long-term maintenance should be a priority and deserves a formal plan.
Hire a Professional. Community input isn’t enough. Engage a public art professional that has experience in the funding, procurement and implementation of similar projects.
Controversies are Opportunities. It’s true that public art can be controversial. Embrace this as an opportunity to further connect with the community and understand their issues.

Our sense of place is largely reliant on our individual perceptions. The more engaging and memorable our experiences are, the more attached we become to the places around us. This is the benefit of public art, which good places value and great places use to advance hyper-locality.

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