Public Art Examples – Success at University

In the last post I investigated the benefits and differences between temporary and long-term Public Art. In this week’s post I will discuss two examples of Public Art at university. One of these is a long-term installation the other was short term. At university the success between long-term and short-term installations is similarly effective in different ways. Which raises the question how we can measure success?

‘Day Trip’ by Sarah Braman

Sarah Braman was born in 1970 in Tonawanda, New York.  She currently lives and works between New York and Amherst, Massachusetts. Sarah Braman is well known for her large-scale sculptures. She is interested in links between sensory and emotional experiences in art. She uses scrap-yard materials and combines them with her vibrant Plexiglas’s coloured windows and concrete sculptures. Her work considers themes of home, family, minimalism and nature.

‘Day Trip’ is a part of a multi piece temporary exhibition at the University of Massachusetts called ‘Cross Town Contemporary Art’.  I have decided to look at this piece due to an article I read, ‘Can Public Art Mend The Divide Between A Town and University?’ (will have link embedded). ‘Day Trip’ by Braman is a concrete cube with violet glass windows. One of the window ledges includes a free library in which locals could borrow or leave old books. It was used by families by day time and at night homeless people had been sleeping inside. Importantly, the piece along many of the others was only up for 2-3 months.

Curator Sandy Litchfield, at left, and artist Sarah Braman sit inside Braman's "Day Trip" in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Curator Sandy Litchfield, at left, and artist Sarah Braman sit inside Braman’s “Day Trip” in Amherst, Massachusetts. Photograph: Jill Kaufman / NEPR

“I wanted to make a place for people to come, to experience the light,” -Braman 

The aim was that art pieces like hers would encourage more residents and students at UMass to engage with each other. The art would act as a conversation starter between the two. The divide is often caused by rowdy students, which has caused residents to ask that more students live on campus. On the other hand, the article mentions that students feel unwelcome in town. As a part of the project there was a planned parade on the 22nd September 2018, which was towards the end of the installation period (1st November). Musicians and stilt walkers lead the parade from campus and would stop at each sculpture in order to encourage “community-bonding”. [1] [2]

My thoughts

I think is many ways this piece is quite successful. The Universities project acts as a gesture towards residents. I can imagine that the project allowed for conversation between students and residents. Because the piece is temporary some might argue that its effects aren’t long term. However, I would argue that it being short term ensures that the university doesn’t domineer public spaces. Hereby, the installation acts as an event – for example, the parade that was planned towards the end of its installation. It is uncertain whether these were successful in mending the divide between residents and students. One curator mentions in the article, “Yet there’s no guarantee this art exhibit will change the dynamic between the school and the people who live in town. That’s up to the people, not the art”. I will agree with them there. This also highlights an important question: Is it possible to measure the success of Public Art? And is it possible to define what success is for Public Art? One could perhaps carry out a case study over the term of the exhibition. Perhaps it is the article on the piece which reflects that the work is having some impact. If its proposition is to start the conversation, then it has been successful. The work cannot do this inherently it has to happen naturally. The University recognizes that there is a problem present. A temporary public exhibition has created space and time for conversation.

John Kearney – ‘Horsepower I’

Kearney in known for his welded steel sculptures which are small and large in scale. He usually uses animal forms as his subjects. He studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan after serving in the navy for four years. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1924. He was the co-founder of the Contemporary Art workshop in Chicago in 1949, which provided emerging artists with studio and exhibition space.

Jonn Kearney – Horsepower 1

‘Horsepower I’ (pictured) is a sculpture at University of Illinois Chicago library. It consists of two large horses made from welded steel car bumpers, and is a part of the public art collection at the city of Chicago. Hereby, the sculpture makes a link between the use of horses and cars. Horses aren’t often used for carriages of field work anymore. The car bumpers replace the form and energy of the two horses. On the other hand, the piece could be encouraging the usage of recycled material. However, it yearns to return to more traditional forms of sculptural public art.

The usage of bumper cars might also relate to Chicago’s history in the auto manufacturing industry. In Chicago one of the first horseless car races was held:

“The 1895 race in a way marks the beginning of Chicago’s auto manufacturing industry; at least six local tinkerers tried to build vehicles for the race but were unable to complete them in time. In the final five years of the nineteenth century at least 22 local companies were formed to build and sell horseless carriages, and at least 12 got their vehicles into production.

Although Chicago never quite rivalled Detroit as the nation’s auto capital, during the first decade of the twentieth century no less than 28 companies produced 68 models of cars in the Windy City and its environs. [3]

And still today the automobile industry is an important sector of Chicago’s economy.

My thoughts

In my opinion I find that this piece is more limited in its success. I do think that this piece does comment on the transition between horses and cars. However, this has no specific relevance to the University of Illinois in Chicago. Much rather, it reminds me of the large economic impact the auto manufacturing industry had in the USA and Chicago. I can see that the piece could create some sense of cultural background for Chicago students due to this. On the other hand, I would argue that the piece’s traditional whimsical appearance counteracts this intention. Its intention does not seem developed upon apart from its face value.

I would argue that the piece could have been more abstract or fragmented in form. It could have emphasized the usage of car bumpers to a greater extent. This may have emphasized its intentions of showing the transition between horses and cars. Students can relate to the feeling of transition as they undergo a period of life changes at University.

On the other hand, it could be argued that students feel a sense of ownership for the sculpture over time. The sculpture could be a part of the library’s visual identity or branding. Temporary work in comparison may not create the same kind of ownership. This raises questions about branding of Public Art. Does more traditional art like Kearney’s amass relevance over time? I will investigate this further in my next post.

 – Tom Hall

Sources: [1]  [2] [3]

Image 1: permission granted by Jill Kaufmann, photography by Jill Kaufmann for NEPR article ‘Can Public Mend The Divide Between A Town And Its University’

Image 2: by UIC Library Digital Collections, License:  Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Public Art Examples – Long term and temporary

I’m Tom, a third year student of Art and English at the University of Reading, on placement with Arts Development Officer Miranda Laurence.

As part of a series of guest posts, I will now be exploring some examples of Public Art. I’m specifically looking at the differences and similarities between long term and temporary art in the public space. Both examples in this post are pieces I have seen in person. My aim hereby is to investigate, ‘What makes different aspects of public art successful and in which ways it does this?’

Rick Kirby – Lincoln Drill Hall Face

This large steel sculpture of a face by Rick Kirby is mounted on a brick wall outside the Lincoln Drill Hall, which is now used as a multi-purpose arts centre and theatre. It was installed in 2007 and is welded together of stainless-steel strips. The piece overlooks the entrance of the theatre venue. It is also situated by the public library and near the Broadway mall shopping centre.

Rick Kirby has over 27 public commissions to date. He initially started his career as an art teacher and then became successful at selling his stone carvings. He transitioned to steel welding due to the large scale it allowed him to work in.

This piece is from my hometown. It has made a lasting impression on how I identify with this certain area of Lincoln. It has a dull expression conveying coldness, sadness and loss. Personally it reminds me of the Greek symbol of theatre the ‘Comedy and Tragedy Masks’ due to its location at the drill hall theatre. The face might also be a reflection upon Lincoln’s culture and history. Lincoln is known as the ‘home of the tank’ and for its large industrial areas.

Rick Kirby, Lincoln Drill Hall

In a BBC Lincolnshire online article the author asks readers to leave opinions on the sculpture. I find these conversations is very exciting.

Comments board from BBC Lincolnshire online article

I think its awfull, looks really miserable and mardy, why couldnt it of been a cheerfull face?

I lyke your face!

Les Woods of Lincoln
If I said I didn’t like it, would they take it down!It does look impressive in the photo. What will visitors to Lincoln find inside the building?

Wendy Parker
I was actually at the Drill Hall when the Face was being installed, and after reading the article in the Lincolnshire Echo had made up my mind that I would find it too modern and not right for it’s resting place. But, I was most impressed with it, found it inspirational, and a credit to it’s designer Rick Kirby. Incidently I was there as a part of a Writers Group who meet every Wednesday at the Drill Hall, and we have all written a poem in honour of the Face, and sent our opinion of this creation to Karen Parsons Book Editor of L.E. It is easy to be judgemental of anything new, but modern art should be given it’s chance to flourish in my opinion. WENDY PARKER, LINCOLN

Ben Marston
Yeah i think it looks great. Give something new to Lincoln

It looks absolutely fab. I made a special trip to have a look at it today going up and I love it. Although the elderly couple next to me said it looked lke Richard O’Brian!

 view full article

My thoughts

This comment section from 2007 shows how varied the discussions about public art can be. Some of the comments aren’t pleased with the sculpture’s appearance. For example, Tracy questions ‘why couldn’t it have been a cheerful face?’. Then Wendy admits she had already made up her mind before seeing the final piece stating it is “too modern” for its location. However, she then changes her mind upon seeing it writing, “It is easy to be judgemental of anything new, but modern art should be given it’s chance to flourish”.

Furthermore, some of the comments are very supportive: “I think it looks great” Ben writes, as does Brenda stating, “It looks absolutely fab… looked like Richard O’Brian”. Most of the comments discuss the pieces visual appearance. Personal taste and appearance seem to play a big role in how people perceive public art.

The location also seems to play an important role. Some of the comments suggest that the drill hall seems unsuitable for this piece. I would argue however, that the mask like sculpture suits the re-purposed drill hall well. Because of the building’s links to the arts and theatre. Furthermore, Les Woods comment shows that the public often feel there is no agency surrounding public art. He writes, ‘If I said I didn’t like it, would they take it down?’. I agree that many of us feel we have no power or influence within public art. This can feel quite demotivating. What would it mean to create public art that pleases everyone? With Wendy’s example she had preconceived ideas that she would not like the face of the drill hall. There seems to be fixed idea about what is right or wrong, an assumption that art should be decorative seems prevalent. I will now consider Olafur Eliason’s temporary public art piece ‘ice watch’.

Olafur Eliason/Minik Rosing – Ice Watch

This project displayed ice-blocks, accessible to anyone, in a square in front of the Tate Modern. The ice-blocks were fished out of the Nuup Kangerlua fjord in Greenland after becoming detached from an ice sheet. When they were installed, each ice block weighed between 1.5 and 5 tonnes. The estimated energy cost for bringing one of these blocks to London is equal to one person flying from London to the Arctic and back to witness the ice melting.

I had the opportunity to visit this piece last December (2018). It is a great example of non-permanent art. Because it’s temporary it hits home the reality of global warming. If one visited the piece within a week’s space, the ice blocks would have completely transformed. As I was touching the ice blocks, I perceived that our control of global warming was slowly melting away.

Olafur Eliason and Minik Rosing, ‘Ice watch’

“Put your hands on the ice, listen to it, smell it, look at it – and witness the ecological changes our world is undergoing.” -Olafur Eliasson

My thoughts

‘Ice Watch’ or temporary public art does something which long term public art cannot. The experience of seeing the ice melt away before one’s eyes becomes the meaning itself. The sculpture is a performance that passes by. In this instance it heightens the issues that it considers. A long term piece about global warming perhaps wouldn’t do this as effectively. However, long term public art I believe creates more of a sense of identity with a certain location, such as the steel face of the Lincoln Drill Hall.

There is certainly much variety in opinion, however it is important to carry this conversation further. It raises the question: How can we value the audience’s voice in public art? Perhaps public art is more successful if it doesn’t please everyone? Rick Kirby’s example is more traditional in its form. However, it still inspired much conversation within the community.

I propose that in a University setting for example, public art should be useful and have aesthetic value simultaneously. Perhaps, if it was a temporary piece its appearance might be less of a concern? The focus would be the art work’s cultural, practical or political aims. In my next post I will consider examples of public art at Universities and develop these thoughts further.

Image 1: by Jim Linwood, on, License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0),

 Image 2 : by  __andrew, on, License: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0),


Public Art at University

Hi, first of all I would like to introduce myself. My name is Tom. I am a year three UoR student studying English Literature and Art. I am on a placement with Miranda Laurence the Arts Development Officer at UoR. I will be joining in on the conversation encompassing ‘Public Art at University’. I will regularly post on this blog and the University of Reading Arts twitter. I look forward to engaging with you and encourage any conversations.

For my first post, Miranda has tasked me with researching definitions for public art. What do I think is important about it and how could it be important at University? Below are some ideas based on the research I have undertaken.

What is ‘Public Art’?

  • Has no specific ‘form’ (scale, realism, abstract, painting, site-specific or in contrast)
  • Intention to be accessible to everyone
  • Incorporate community values, enhance environment, transform a landscape, create awareness.
  • Reflect the collective community
  • Doesn’t have to appeal to everyone, controversy is inevitable but signals that people care about their environment, which is healthy.
  • Most often involves artists, architects, design professionals, community residents, civic leaders, politicians, approval agencies, funding agencies and construction teams.
  • Should seek the most imaginative relationship between community and artist.
  • Modes and definitions are always changing, methods and materials change to reflect contemporary culture
  • Can be used as political tool, propaganda or civic protest
  • Can be non-permanent such as performance, dance theatre, poetry, graffiti, posters and installations
  • Many Artists feel conflicted about calling it ‘Public Art’ instead of just ‘Art’

“The term public art refers to art that is in the public realm, regardless of whether it is situated on public or private property or whether it has been purchased with public or private money.” -Tate

‘Follow Me’ by Jeppe Hein, University of Bristol, 2009

What is the function of Public Art?

  • It is a part of evolving culture, collective memory
  • Adds meaning to cities/locations by reflecting society
  • Narrative of the public experience
  • Bring people together, define space, authenticate identity
  • Social inclusion by creating space that brings everyone together
  • Point of reference for a space
  • Branding of a specific location, cultural tourism, pride among residents, social and economic benefits
  • Inspire conversations, helps understand places better


What are my thoughts?

Public art can be very successful in bringing the community together. I think it does this by creating conversations about art and public spaces. The art is accessible to all people, in contrast to some exhibitions in art galleries which are either exclusive or expensive to visit. Often gallery work isn’t relevant to its space it could feel out of reach for some people, whereas public art is immediately available and will have a different relevance to the space for different people. I think this can create a sense of identity for certain spaces and areas and makes resident feel prouder.

I think that by engaging with contemporary cultural issues such as global warming the presence of public art helps remind people about these issues. For example ‘Ice Watch’ by Olafur Eliason and Minik Rosing, which I will talk about further in my next post. His ice blocks taken from Greenland and placed outside of the Tate moderns act as a signal for global warming. Being able to visit the piece in a public space gave me a feeling of immediacy about the global warming issue.


Why Public Art at University?

  • Can help mend divides between a town and the university, for example the University of Massachusetts used public art to create spaces in which students and residents could engage and break the divide. Such as Sarah Braman’s ‘Day Trip’, as pictured below, which I will investigate further in my next post.
  • Creates conversations between students about public art
  • Allows for creative spaces to inspire and relieve stress on campus. For example, at the University of Bristol ‘Follow Me’ by Jeppe Hein, a labyrinth made from mirrors as pictured above, reflects its surrounding and viewers. I imagine that this fragmented space can inspire its students creatively.
  • Can reflect cultural and social issues important to the University and its students
  • Creates a sense of identity and pride on campus
Image result for university of massachusetts public art
‘Day Trip’ by Sarah Braman, University of Massachusetts, 2018

Tree Conversations artist residency – reflections

Artist Rachel Barbaresi writes about her experience developing an artist residency for the University, which aimed to give University members new ways to interact with and notice their surroundings on campus. Participants were invited to join a series of ‘tree walks’ on campus, gathering ‘data’ and documenting what they saw in creative ways.


She writes:

“The aim of these workshops was to carry out collective visual research in response to trees at Whiteknights and the MERL gardens with participants from across roles and disciplines at Reading University. I wanted to take an approach that allowed room for subjective responses to the experience of observing and recording the trees, and for the backgrounds, interests and personalities of the individuals involved to play a role. So although the trees were our subject, there is a sense in which this was about the potential for discovery through bringing different backgrounds, disciplines and experiences to the process of observing and recording.


There were two walks in the MERL garden and two in an area of Whiteknights campus called ‘the wilderness’, and an additional walk in the Harris gardens. I became interested in the idea of avoiding photography as a form of documentation, and focussing on other, less familiar ways to record the trees. Participants were given a bag of materials and tools which included drawing implements, a range of drawing surfaces, acrylic work surface to enable tracing, slide cases which could be used for collecting fragments of moss, leaves etc, plasticine for taking impressions, tape measures, notebooks for writing. We also took sound recording equipment. Although I made some suggestions participants were invited to use the materials as they wished and there was freedom to experiment and invent.


Participants spoke about being outside their comfort zone and feeling anxious about taking part in a creative activity, worries about not being an artist and how their drawing ability would be judged. Some also spoke of a sense of anticipation in being able to open the bag of materials and explore and experiment with the contents.
Some of the problems which came from this way of working opened up unexpected possibilities. We decided to go ahead with plans despite forecasts of heavy showers, and undeterred, the group turned up in waterproofs. During the heaviest showers, the rain took away control over our drawing materials, paper becoming wet making drawing more difficult. Participants began to embrace the rain as part of the process, pressing soggy paper into bark of tree trunks to emboss it, causing ink to disperse through shaking water drops from tree branches and using wet mud and leaves in drawings. The weather brought an energy to the process and contributed to the creativity and invention.


It was interesting to work with a group which ranged from people who have arts training to those who have very little experience with drawing. It wasn’t entirely obvious, looking back through the drawings, whether people had experience or not. And when I had conversations with people afterwards about their ideas and approaches to the activities, there were creative approaches and outcomes which were not linked to drawing skills, but to ideas and lateral thinking.


Generally participants spoke positively about the experience despite the weather! One participant commented that she found it a very mindful experience. Others enjoyed the opportunity for creativity, and valued the time spent in beautiful areas of the campus with time to experience the space rather than rushing through. There was an intensity in the experience of looking and making. 


All of the drawings, plasticine impressions, notes and collections have been labelled and organised into an archive with the help of project assistant Sonya Chenery. We categorised items by the person who had created / collected them. The collections were displayed at the Cole Museum over two days, two weeks after the walks took place, and we explored different approaches to curating the outcomes. Visitors were invited to use the collection as a starting point for their own monoprints, lino-prints and tracings as a secondary way of connecting to the original experience of visually recording the trees.


Working collectively made me aware of how much I miss when looking around me and how subjective and individual our experiences are even when we are all working with the same subject matter. I became aware of certain trees, textures and shapes purely as a result of my co-researchers noticing and recording them. We have filters when experiencing the world around us, perhaps as a way of coping with the overwhelming volumes of sensory stimulation around us.


There is so much material to work with as a result of these workshops and I am beginning to think about ways of approaching the collection with an interest in how to develop the sense of archive and follow threads and relationships within the collection.