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Connect Through Public Art

Westlake Urban Blog

January 26, 2015

Imagine walking through an urban neighborhood and suddenly coming across a giant ogre emerging from the earth. The angry giant clambers out of the lawn and seems to shout, surprising and welcoming visitors.

Perhaps you’re on your way to San Francisco. It’s nighttime. You’re driving west from Oakland, across the Bay Bridge, and as you emerge from the Yerba Buena Tunnel, you’re met with a massive spectacle of shimmering, ascending and descending lights, the largest LED light sculpture in the world.

Maybe you’re on vacation, wandering off-the-grid through a decaying, seaside neighborhood, and you stumble upon a dilapidated brick building that seems to be sliding right off its foundation. As you pause, you notice other tourists and visitors gathering around the building and speculating about the intended meaning of the striking sculpture.

Creative works of public art serve many purposes. In the case of The Bay Lights, the San Francisco Bay Bridge light sculpture, the Burning Man-inspired work is meant to be a beacon, something so inspiring that that it “just melts our differences away, and lets us experience a sense of wordless awe together.” The “Sliding House” sculpture has become a catalyst, attracting tourists and helping to reinvigorate a crusty seaside town in England. And in Budapest, the Giant Ogre “shows visitors that public art can be part of the city fabric, fusing architecture, nature and art for an all-encompassing experience.

Public Art Adds Value

Public art reflects our values as a society, adds meaning to our cities, and connects past, present, and future generations of public space users. Public art is also an equalizing force, accessible to everyone. Studies show that public art reduces crime, encourages public safety, and stimulates economic development. Public art comes in many forms, including temporary, permanent, and even pop-up exhibits that elevate quality of life.

It’s not enough, however, to simply drop a beautiful public art project into a public space. For a work of public art to become an iconic place-maker, it should tell a story, one that is meaningful in the context of its time and place and one that resonates with the members of the surrounding community.

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