Public Art Evaluation: An Ongoing Process

Posted by Alison Spain On May - 17 - 2012

"Wave Arbor" by Doug Hollis at Long Bridge Park in Arlington, VA.

(Author’s Note: This post builds upon prior pieces by Dr. Elizabeth Morton and Angela Adams.)

I enrolled in Dr. Morton’s Exploring Evaluation for Public Art studio as a way to complement my experience as a working artist-art educator with a limited sense of the planning and evaluation process for public art. Over the course of the studio I came to see evaluation not as a zero sum game meant to occur after installation, but rather as an ongoing series of assessments conducted by and for major stakeholders, including, but not limited to, the intended audience.

While public art evaluation clearly includes examining the perceptions of the general public, it must also examine the processes and decisions that influence, direct, and ultimately, commission, new works.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this studio was the opportunity for cross-disciplinary dialogue created by the intentional interface of urban planners, designers (in this case, architecture & landscape architecture students), artists, and arts administrators.

Each of these roles fulfills an important and different function in the life cycle of the public art project; yet all too often we work in isolation from one another and/or use language that is particular to one discipline and foreign to another. The studio proved to me that we have a great deal to learn from one another and that increased cross-disciplinary collaboration will continue to yield exciting new contributions to the field of public art evaluation.

For example, as a predominantly 2D artist moving into the more design-based role of the landscape architect, the concept of site analysis took on an expanded meaning. From a conventional fine arts perspective, a site is a location where an artwork is placed, not necessarily a place that an artwork might inhabit over time. Artists would clearly benefit from the designer’s perspective of understanding site as an ongoing process, with multiple actors; yet this is a concept that is rarely discussed in undergraduate or graduate level art programs. Read the rest of this entry »

Artists Evaluating Our Own Public Art

Posted by Lajos Heder On May - 17 - 2012

Lajos Heder

Evaluation is a different issue for artists creating commissioned work than for administrators running a public art program.

In my view, the administrator needs positive public feedback to politically (and financially) support the program. As artists we need feedback that help us become better artists.

It is much easier to imagine an evaluation of a whole program than to measure the value of a single artwork.

As artists we are all somewhat eccentric in our art making process. We combine research and rational thought with personal intuitions and observations in our own unique ways. We invent things that have not existed before.

Members of the public, who have not seen anything exactly like it before may love it or hate it at first sight. They may adapt to love it, or get bored over time. People who say they love the art, may never pay much attention after the first look. Others who are uncomfortable may eventually come around and gain something important.

My experience is that a large percentage of people pay very little attention to public art. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art & Community Attachment

Posted by Penny Balkin Bach On May - 16 - 2012

Penny Balkin Bach

Working in the field of public art automatically puts us in touch with the public, art, and its social context.

In fact, public art may be one of a community’s most overlooked and underappreciated cultural assets; it’s accessible “on the street”, any time, free to all, without a ticket, and diverse in content. It can be enjoyed spontaneously, alone, or in groups, and by culture seekers as well as new audiences.

There is data out there that supports the benefits of public art to the community.

The Knight Foundation and Gallup Corporation’s Soul of the Community study, for example, indicates that community attachment creates an emotional connection to place (which also correlates to local economic growth). They determined that the key drivers of attachment are social offerings, openness, and the aesthetics of place–all potential attributes of public art.

It’s fascinating that these drivers scored higher than education, basic services and safety, and the economy. Also, a local summer visitors survey conducted by the Greater Philadelphia Marketing & Tourism Corporation (GPTMC) found that of the city’s ten most popular outdoor activities, outdoor art ranked second–above hiking, jogging, and biking.

Public art can create community attachment, if we overcome perceived barriers and open pathways for engagement. With this in mind, the Fairmount Park Art Association developed Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO (MWW:AUDIO)—a multi-platform interactive audio experience, available for free on the street by cell phone, audio download, Android and iPhone mobile app, QR code, or online as streaming audio and audio slideshows. Read the rest of this entry »

Collaboration Improves Local Arts Agency’s Public Art Program

Posted by Angela Adams On May - 16 - 2012

Angela Adams

Arlington County’s public art program benefited greatly from our collaborative effort with Virginia Tech and Americans for the Arts mentioned in Dr. Elizabeth Morton’s post from earlier this week.

Like many programs across the country, we are adjusting to the new normal of increased scrutiny of public spending as it relates to the arts. We are also adjusting to our recent relocation from the Department of Parks and Recreation to that of Arlington Economic Development and are just beginning to understand the difference in priorities between the two agencies and how these will impact our future work.

We are currently working on developing a white paper on the value of public art to Arlington through four lenses: community and social benefits; civic design and placemaking; economic; and aesthetic/experiential.

It is helpful that the field of economics has begun to look seriously at developing measurement tools for such intangible phenomena as human happiness or fulfillment as well as the intrinsic value of the arts, so there is an increasing body of literature to draw from here. The findings of the Virginia Tech students will similarly help us in making the case for how and why public art adds value to our community.

To summarize some of the more interesting (even surprising) findings of the four teams discussed in the previous post and their value to Arlington’s public art program: Read the rest of this entry »

Looking at the People Behind the Scenes for Numbers That Count

Posted by Rebecca Rothman On May - 16 - 2012

Rebecca Rothman

Public art is a tough sell in a bad economy.

When senior centers are closing and library hours have been cut back, convincing city leaders to spend money on art feels like an exercise in futility.

Instead of focusing on how projects boost the economy after their completion or counting positive media reports, we’ve begun to look the people behind the scenes for numbers that count.

Artists create a concept and are given credit for the resulting project but they don’t work alone. There are many others who help make the project a reality. From fabricators to material suppliers, each firm brings expertise to the process to ensure that the project is designed and built to last.

We’ve asked artists and design leads to list each subcontractor they hire under their contract with our program. Then, we ask the contractor to do the same. These people equal JOBS.

We’ve tracked our projects this way for the past five years and found that 85 percent of the work created by our program has been completed by local firms. Each time we present a project or upcoming commission to city leaders, these job numbers are included and guess what? They’re listening. Read the rest of this entry »

Taking the Art World Approach: Evaluating Public Art as an Investment

Posted by Brandi Reddick On May - 16 - 2012

Brandi Reddick

The idea of art as an investment is by no means a new concept. Art collectors jet set to major fairs in Hong Kong, Basel, and Sao Paulo hoping to secure their next big investment purchase; gallery owners and curators are constantly on the scout to discover the “next big artist”; and auction houses are drawing in record sales for artworks.

As administrators of public art, it is vital that we take some clues from the art world and evaluate public art as an investment for our community and start scouting for that “next big artist” who lives and works in our community.

The unique nature of public art inherently makes it one of the most valuable and exponentially increasing public assets for a community. I have the great fortune of working for Miami-Dade County Art in Public Places (MDAPP), which boasts a collection of nearly 700 works of public art.

Throughout its 40-year history, the program has commissioned some of the most significant contemporary artists in the world to create one of a kind, site-specific works of art. As with most works of public art, the commissioning cost of these works only reflects a percentage of their current value.

For example, in 1985 artist Edward Ruscha was commissioned by the Miami-Dade County Art in Public Places Trust to create “Words Without Thoughts Never to Heaven Go”, a site-specific installation for the Main Library consisting of eight 16-foot-long panels mounted around the lobby’s rotunda. The work was commissioned for approximately $300,000. Read the rest of this entry »

Showing Others What We Do

Posted by Kaity Nicastri On May - 15 - 2012

Kaity Nicastri

Editor’s Note: Following Public Art Network Council Member Sioux Trujillo’s post, project partner Kaity Nicastri describes the benefit of using logic models in evaluation.

Evaluation. That’s a hefty word. Most people cringe when they think of evaluation, but it’s really not that scary and doesn’t need to be feared.

With the arts in mind, evaluation can take on many forms—it can be programmatic, project-based, user/patron feedback, monitoring sales/attendance, but they all have a unifying theme: understanding the impact of your work.

I started working with a community public art program over two years ago as a Master’s-level intern from the University of Michigan’s Community Based Initiative. With a concentration in policy and evaluation, I fit the nerdier side of social work. I’m not your average caseworker.

In my new role, I was faced with a program that had surveys, but no real evaluation and no understanding of the results of the surveys. Simultaneously, taking a technical evaluation course, I started with a logic model. This process is truly the crux of all good evaluation. If you don’t understand what you are trying to accomplish, evaluation will mean very little.

Through the logic model, I learned invaluable information about the structure of the program and goals of the directors, funders, and participants for various investments in the program. The logic model process created a useful document that informed my evaluation knowledge and development. Read the rest of this entry »

Interconnectedness is the Key to Understanding Public Art

Posted by Christina Lanzl On May - 15 - 2012

Christina Lanzl

Many of us will readily name a favorite work of art in a treasured public place, a priceless cultural asset. Similarly, we can probably point to the destruction of such works by neglect, human or institutional failure, war, or extreme events. To put a finger on why certain outdoor works of art are so important or to provide a clear value can already be more challenging.

If anything, one can point to the unique, irreplaceable quality of the treasured cultural asset. If anything, the qualifier ‘priceless’ may be the only accurate valuation of something that is of high quality and unique. Because public art programs and cultural planners have been asking for such a tool kit, the Public Art Network at Americans for the Arts is currently developing a framework for public art evaluation

While public art programs create permanent public art in partnership with contemporary artists, these works immediately begin their art historic trajectory once installation is complete, beginning with a short and long-term maintenance plan. Thus, collection management evaluation criteria for public art can serve as a point of departure and should be coordinated in partnership with existing preservation initiatives. At the national level, heritage preservation institutions like Save Outdoor Sculpture take on advocacy and protection roles in the U.S., joined by local and state historic preservation organizations.

Once the approach has been determined, the process needs to zero in on the types of questions and figures that not only quantify, but also qualify the value of public art. Evaluation of public art projects and programs is a difficult task, particularly so if the researcher considers them within the framework of the cultural or urban context. Read the rest of this entry »

Planting a Seed About Evaluation

Posted by Sioux Trujillo On May - 15 - 2012

Sioux Trujillo

I recently resigned from a public art program in Detroit that was housed inside a small arts college. During my time there, evaluation became a big part of my job. It was critical to track, define, and report for the future of the program to serve as a baseline for success for the arts institution. Before this, my idea of success was primarily based from the perspective of the studio artist.

The projects that were created in the neighborhoods of Detroit were much more complex because each project was so very different from one another, involved different people from diverse backgrounds, and had community defined goals and artist selection.

When I set out to create a plan of evaluation I realized this was going to be a complex task.

My first obstacle was simply trying to figure out what to call the projects. A seemingly simple thing turned into more than I expected.

I started to compile a list of all the different names that artists and organizations are using to define public art which involves the people around the project in some way.

•    Social Aesthetics
•    Relational Aesthetics
•    Social Justice Art
•    Community Art
•    Placemaking
•    Social Sculpture
•    New Genre Public Art
•    Tactical Media
•    Cultural Activism
•    Social Practice
•    Interventions
•    Happenings
•    Participatory Art Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring Evaluation for Public Art: Arlington County as Laboratory

Posted by Dr. Elizabeth Morton On May - 14 - 2012
Dr. Elizabeth Morton

Dr. Elizabeth Morton

This course had its origins in a graduate assignment I had back in the early 1990s. My intimidating professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design provided only two requirements for our final paper: 1) that it be “interesting to him” and 2) that it be no longer than three pages.

I was relieved that he approved my topic of “how do local public art agencies evaluate their projects,” but was concerned about the page limitations. I needn’t have worried, since after reviewing as many of the agencies as I could in the pre-internet era, I did not find much.

At a presentation on public art in Arlington, VA, nearly 20 years later, a question from the audience made me think about my project again. I imagined that as the public art field had matured, surely there had been efforts to institutionalize some evaluative practices, but when I started making inquiries I realized that this was still a relatively unexplored topic.

Since Angela Adams and Liesel Fenner had both been kind enough to speak in my urban design policy class over the years, I approached them with the idea of conducting a graduate studio that would try to take on this topic. It’s a great testament to their openness to inquiry and commitment to the field that they very actively participated in the studio and contributed many hours and many insights.

Recognizing the complexity of the topic and the limitations of the three-month semester, and not having any idea about what we would find, we titled the course, “Exploring Evaluation for Public Art: Arlington County as Laboratory.”

Our 12 students hailed from five different countries and from three different programs (planning, architecture, and landscape architecture). To my delight, two of them were practicing public artists! Read the rest of this entry »

The Question We Should Be Asking is “Does it Work?”

Posted by Barbara Goldstein On May - 14 - 2012

Barbara Goldstein

In an era dominated by Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and Yelp!, where we are constantly invited to hit the “like” button and share our reviews, it’s tempting to wade into evaluating public art without asking the question “why?” After all, anyone can should have a valid opinion of anything that lives in the public realm, right?

I’ve always felt that anyone who experiences public art or architecture should have the ability to judge its success. The question we should ask is not really “like” or “not like,” though. The question we should ask is “does it work?”

As someone who plans and commissions public art, I feel it’s my responsibility to engage community members in the work we do—before, during and after art has been installed. After all, the difference between public art and art created in the studio is that the end user will live with it for a long time and we can’t easily move it into storage. If we actually involve our communities in the public art process, we will automatically develop the tools for them to evaluate it.

The first question we need to ask is “What are we trying to learn?”

For many years now, policymakers and implementers have asked whether the economic value of public art can be quantified. This is the wrong question.

It would be virtually impossible to measure whether one work of art has an economic impact in a specific place. The questions that can be asked are more subtle—what makes a specific place memorable? Can you describe what you experience there and how it makes you feel? What do you think when you see a particular artwork? Does it improve your experience of this place? Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art Evaluation RFP: Request For (Your) Participation

Posted by Liesel Fenner On May - 14 - 2012

Liesel Fenner

Americans for the Arts programs Blog Salons to focus attention on a particular arts topic to generate discussion through online responses: comments, follow-up posts, Tweets, Facebook comments, etc.

While many of us find it challenging to keep up with daily email, much less blogs and our social media accounts, there are a few questions we repeatedly see posted on the Public Art Network (PAN) listserv:

“Does anyone have a sample public art evaluation report?” or “Are there are any public art and economic impact studies?”

After the question is asked the listserv goes silent, no one replies.

The goal of our Blog Salon this week is to turn up the volume and encourage as many contributions of ideas on how the field (PAN, you, me, we) can approach public art evaluation.

We have invited a variety of public art professionals—both administrators and artists—to participate in the Salon with their ideas on how we measure public art programs, projects, or both.

We will hear from arts leaders who are experimenting with ideas on how to measure an art form that is elusive to traditional measurement tools. Artwork that resides in public space.

How do count audience viewers?

Are they actually viewers when passers-by may or may not even notice the work?

Should we approach the general public and measure their reaction to the work? Read the rest of this entry »

Reevaluating My Thinking Around Evaluation

Posted by Joanna Chin On May - 4 - 2012

Joanna Chin

When I asked the bloggers for Animating Democracy’s Evaluation & Social Impact Blog Salon to write about this topic, I thought I knew what I was going to get. Animating Democracy’s Impact Initiative has been going strong for several years now with a fantastic set of evolving framings, vocabulary, metrics, methodologies, etc. and so forth.

In addition, a good handful of these folks have worked with us before and the rest I know through their incredible creative work. None of them are strangers to questions of social impact or evaluation.

I expected discussions about how to show funders and community leaders what impact was made; talk of how to establish outcomes and indicators; examples of surveys and interviewing. While many of these were touched on throughout the salon, what did emerge made me start to adjust my thinking around evaluation.

Perhaps even more important was what surprised me: that the trends in evaluative thinking and practice came from the work itself rather than an external driver.

Is storytelling just a fad?: Qualitative v. quantitative

At Americans for the Arts, we make the case for the arts daily and within that there is a delicate balance between the concreteness of numbers and the power of stories. However, as noted by Katherine Gressel, “surveys and statistics are out; stories and experiences are in.” Read the rest of this entry »

Thinking About the Impact of Public Art

Posted by Chris Dwyer On May - 4 - 2012

Chris Dwyer

I was impressed that so many posts during the Blog Salon have tackled the challenge of assessing the impact of public art—a particularly challenging area for building indicators of impact.

Several years ago I heard Richard Florida describe public art in terms of community image when making a point about vital cities, i.e. those that attract entrepreneurs and visitors and earn the loyalty of their residents.

The idea of assessing impact through the eyes of strangers intrigues me:

What does a collection of public art convey to those who don’t know the city? Does it say those who live here…

  • …are willing to take a risk?
  • …like to try new things?
  • …are open to new ideas?
  • …have a sense of whimsy?

We can perhaps all imagine cities we’ve visited where public art conveyed exactly those impressions of a new locale.

A worthy impact for the investment and not so difficult to measure.

Seeing the messages of public art through the eyes of a younger generation may offer a similar window into the impact of public art. Read the rest of this entry »

The Public Kitchen & the Dilemma of Evaluating a Gesture

Posted by Kenneth Bailey On May - 4 - 2012

Public Kitchen participants.

The next intervention the Design Studio is working on is called the Public Kitchen. It’s part of larger project we are developing called “The Public: A Work in Progress.”

As public infrastructures—hospitals, water, schools, transportation, etc.—are privatized, the Public Kitchen takes a stab at going in the reverse direction. It is a “productive fiction”; it’s our experimentation with a new, more vibrant social infrastructure that can:

  • Challenge the public’s own feelings that “public” means poor, broken down, poorly run, and “less than” private
  • Engage communities in claiming public space, the social and food justice
  • Make a new case for public infrastructures through creating ones that don’t exist

The first step of the Public Kitchen occured last fall when we worked with artist and graphic designer Jill Peterson to create what we called a “mobile ideation kit.” This enabled us to have interesting conversations with passers-by in a variety of communities, with an easy, attractive way to ask about what would be important to them in this made-up new form.

Next, we created an indoor Public Kitchen exhibit for Roxbury Open Studios. Over 100 residents, activists and artists came for a bite, took home fresh veggies, imagined new food policies, checked out architectural sketches, and added their ideas for what’s possible for a Public Kitchen.


Read the rest of this entry »

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.