Public Art is not always beautiful

Working with Parish Councils on Public Art Projects, reveals two related challenges;  one is  engaging the local population  in public art projects, and the second is completing the project with the current planning requirements.

As far as the first challenge goes, school groups, clubs and societies are easy to target because they  see the value of external agency enriching the curriculum,  school experience or the social club night .  People outside organised groups are more difficult to involve and their engagement really relies on artist and project teams making extra effort to move into the space of ‘footfall’ around the village, or setting up a stall/event in the market/park for example.

There is then the fine line to tread between art that encapsulates the local culture whilst retaining the artistic integrity and intent of the artist.  Avoiding ‘Design By Committee’ is crucial.    The successful artists working in this field have specific skill sets to manage this flux and a strong Project Manager helps to mediate the process.

The second challenge is with the planning authority – and this is where recently it has become complicated in specific instances. The planning authority will have been the conduit for S106 money to pay for the public art and permitted the project to be commissioned by the Parish Council.  The Parish Council has engaged the local community and spent the money at least up to the point of the completion of the design work.  Then the Planning authority often require a different kind of local engagement in the form of an application for planning permission.  The risk for the Parish Council (or other community group) at the end of this process is that they could have a piece of public art that they can’t install.  It seems contrary to public interests that the one authority should at once be both facilitating and jeopardizing the process of creating Public Art by and for local communities.

Ideally a strategy for a particular project is agreed with all the stakeholders at the outset, so that providing the process set out is followed, there should be no need to return to the Planning Authority to request permission to install the artwork. This removes the risk of rejection because individuals don’t like the outcome.  Let’s face it public art is not always beautiful, sometimes it is challenging.


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