News & Insights

Why Public Art? Reflections on the public art sector

Two reports out last week continue to raise the debate on redressing the balance in presenting more diverse representation and artists in public art, whilst acknowledging the need for support for artists, curators and producers currently working within the sector.

Published date: 18 July 2023

‘Building a More Diverse and Inclusive Public Art Sector commissioned by Beam, authored by Boseda Olawoye aims to explore and address why artist commissioning opportunities in the area of public art do not seem to attract a diverse range of artists from different backgrounds. The need for this research was informed by Beam’s own diversity monitoring, anecdotal evidence and the research of others in the sector. The over-arching question behind it all was ‘How can we make the sector more fair and equitable?’

As Public Art Producers, we were invited by Boseda to contribute to the Beam report and read with interest the findings. We recognise that there is still a long way to go when working in the public realm and many questions are yet to be answered.

One of the key findings/recommendations in the report; Demystifying ‘Public Art’ – is the title of our own free downloadable practical guides to commissioning public art. We strongly agree with Beam’s message that:

The term ‘public art’ needs to be demystified, alongside clarity about the kinds of skills, knowledge and experience that are required and what to expect, particularly communicating your ideas to local authority officers and members, and other decision makers who are not from an arts background.

The second report ‘Why Public Art, Why Now?’, shares research undertaken by the national public art think tank IXIA which analysed the sector’s needs to help understand the barriers to accessing work and opportunities.

As the Executive Summary states, “The comments received identify ongoing structural issues within the sector despite the commissioning opportunities that continue to arise through the availability of funding for public art projects across the country. People talked about resources, community engagement, pay, needs and challenges and the many ethical and practical issues they face.”

We agree that ‘the research points towards a gap and need for an independent organisation that can support the broader public art sector and address the challenges across access, diversity, and inclusion’ and support their recommendation for:

Finding ways of engaging with and promoting the field of public art as an opportunity for innovation and creative exploration to future generations of artists, curators, consultants and researchers.

We would add to this, finding ways to support existing practitioners in a way that opens and allows creative freedom whilst learning from their experience.

We look forward to continuing the conversations and exploring further at the upcoming discussion forum being planned with IXIA & Beam for the Autumn.


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