Session Idea: How do we make public art relevant?

The city of Philadelphia has one of the largest collections of public art in the country, but how do we take an existing resource, like Philadelphia’s preeminent collection of artwork, and make it new again?

I am the New Media Manager for the Association for Public Art (aPA, formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association). In 2010, aPA launched Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO — an innovative and accessible outdoor sculpture interpretive program for Philadelphia’s public art.  MWW:AUDIO is a “multi-platform” interactive audio experience – available for free by cell phone, audio download, or on the web. It offers the untold histories that are not typically expressed on outdoor permanent signage. Through first person, oral story telling from multiple viewpoints, the social history of public art is shared.

Although this has been a successful program, it has not been developed for every artwork/sculpture in Philadelphia. What about the sculptures that aren’t included in the program? Or, what other ways can we reconnect audiences with public art?

We recently launched “Open Air” by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer currently running nightly from 8pm-11pm on the Parkway through October 14. “Open Air” is a spectacular interactive light experience directed by participants’ voices and GPS locations, illuminating the night sky from the Parkway. How do we share the history of a temporary spectacle like this? How does its history carry on once it’s gone?

I would like to brainstorm with others about how to answer these questions. Let’s get together and come up with ways to collaborate with one another, and make relevant historical connections.

One thought on “Session Idea: How do we make public art relevant?

  1. This sounds like a great session idea. We have quite a few public sculptures–both temporary and permanent on our college campus (F&M). We created a google sculpture trail almost two years ago so that we could provide very basic information to the public related to the artist, materials, process.

    We currently have an interesting situation. 4 temporary sculptures were installed last month that correlate with a museum exhibition. They are difficult pieces for many of our students and community members to understand or relate to, and the artists and curators are reluctant to provide any type of interpretive materials for fear of imposing their opinions on viewers. Some on our staff (myself included) feel we should provide some type of intellectual framework and resources to empower visitors to interpret the sculptures for themselves. I would love to find out what interpretive platforms public art organizations are using and what if any intellectual scaffolding you provide to give viewers a starting point for understanding the works.

Leave a Reply