Taking many forms, public art can include any medium experienced in public outdoor or indoor spaces, through permanent or temporary exhibits. Large-scale painted murals are a rapidly multiplying medium in Australia. Other artworks include sculptures, installations, and soundscapes. These can be embedded in architectural surfaces and landscaping, occupying three dimensions, while utilising the multi-sensory realities of urban spaces. Done well, public art can improve the amenity of public space while accounting for local historical, cultural, and social contexts.
Far from being ‘plonked’ randomly in urban spaces, city-shapers often use public art strategically to renew the fabric of built environments and energise surrounding communities. Public art is often leveraged by city councils to contribute to the urban renewal programs, designed to remediate urban decay and activate urban spaces. While complex and long-term projects, urban renewal can improve quality of life outcomes, residents’ prosperity, and the urban area’s amenity.
Within these programs, it is an essential that councils ensure that living, working, and recreation spaces are fit for purpose and meet the needs of residents. Artworks should be sympathetic to setting and location, as well as the communities who co-habit the space. Quality public art can assist with urban renewal but cannot uplift entire communities alone. As such, urban renewal programs should focus first on addressing deep social, economic, and environmental problems before commissioning artworks.