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

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