What is public art?

Student writer Abi adds to the discussion on public art around campus, and explores the connection between public art and wellbeing. This is the first event in a series taking place this week that will ask us the question: what is public art?

The University is commissioning for public artwork in University public places. It is part of the University Art Strategy but also aims to connect all members of the University community with aspects of University life – our values, identity, sense of place, learning, teaching and research.

This week (4–8 March), a range of events, workshops and talks are being held to raise awareness and spark discussion with staff and students of where and what public art should be. I stopped by the ‘Chalk Drawing’ event in Palmer to have a look at the collaborative art. Unfortunately, the poor weather meant it had to be moved to the Palmer Foyer –but that didn’t stop the artists engaging with students, getting a few curious glances and asking passers-by: ‘What is public art?’


I was met by friendly staff and students who explained to me the project and asked for my thoughts on what public art meant to me and why it’s important.

Examples of public art can be as obvious as the Cloud Gate in Chicago or a peculiar bench in a public space. I had never considered the importance of public art to wellbeing. The five steps to mental wellbeing include connect, be active, keep learning, give and be mindful. All of which can be linked to public art. ‘Connect’ is something we do unconsciously too: we often walk past paintings, or sculptures in our everyday lives and associate them with a certain place. Public art, like the Cloud Gate in Chicago, becomes an identifier for the space. Another example of this includes the lion in Forbury Gardens.

Whilst talking to Miranda, the Arts Development Officer, we discussed different perceptions of public art: Is public art a luxury? Does art on campus have to be Reading-related? How do the current (very few) artwork or paintings on campus shape the space? She was particularly interested to find out how we, as students experience the University space and what aspects of student life and experience would we want to see in a commissioned artwork.

The event itself was very enjoyable, and it was great to escape the everyday and talk all-things-art for an hour. I highly recommend others to try one of these events:

Lunchtime Workshop: Tuesday 5 March, Palmer G02 & Friday 8 March, Palmer G06.
Information Stall: Wednesday 6 March, Library Foyer 12-2pm.
Tree Walks: Wednesday 6 March 10-11.30am at MERL Gardens, 2-3.30pm at Whiteknights campus.
Artist talk: Wednesday 6 March 1-2pm, Nike Theatre, Agriculture building.
Living Sculpture: Thursday 7 March 1-2pm, near Friends’ Bridge (or URS if it is raining)

Or tweet @Rdg_Uni_arts with the hashtag #WhatIsPublicArt with your thoughts and questions!

 The first artist is expected to be commissioned this summer. Have your say on what and where art should be on campus, and what public art means to you!

For more information, visit: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/arts/public-art/

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