The case for public art
The value of art in public can seem difficult to define and measure, however there is increasingly new evidence and tools available that allow commissioners make the case for art in public to funders or partners. There does however seem no doubt that in general the arts play a crucial role in the vibrancy and cultural life of rural counties. A summary of the role of the arts in rural economies, regeneration, community development and culture is set out by the Arts Council in The arts and rural England: Why the arts are at the heart of rural life (2005) by François Matarasso and Arts Council England. Think tank Littoral (an arts research and development Trust focussing on social, cultural and environmental change) has also produced a number of strategic documents on rural arts & culture, A cultural strategy for rural England: investing in rural community creativity and cultural capital (2006) and Creative rural communities: a proposal for a rural cultural strategy (2010). In Dorset the case for the arts is defined by the Dorset Cultural Strategy 2009-14 (2009).
Looking more closely at art in public, evidence of its social value is gathering. For instance general studies such as “PROJECT”, an evaluation of a series of case studies commissioned by Public Art South West, found that art in public can be a real catalyst for change in the built and natural environment (Comedia, 2007). More recently a study by the University of Central Lancashire, New Model Visual Arts Organisations & Social Engagement (2011) sets out some of the wider social and cultural potential of “socially engaged arts practices” which build links through temporary or permanent communities of place, interest or practice, engaging with people as social beings rather than producing cultural commodities for individualised consumers.
Ongoing is work by Ixia and the Open Space Research Centre, building a national evidence base for art in public premised on social, economic, environmental and artistic values, detailed in Public Art: A Guide to Evaluation (2010). The values attributed to art in public are:
• Social: Community development, poverty and social inclusion, health and well-being, crime and safety, personal and interpersonal development, travel and access, skills acquisition
• Economic: marketing/place identity/tourism , regeneration, economic investment and output, resource use and recycling, education, employment, value for money
• Environmental: ecological mitigation & conservation, physical environmental improvement, pollution and waste management, climate change and energy
• Artistic: visual/aesthetic/enjoyment, social activation, innovation/risk, host participation, challenge/critical debate
From this work ixia have produced an Evaluation Toolkit for art in public which assists users to:
• carry out an appraisal of the feasibility of a public art commission;
• maximise the potential of a public art commission and identify different goals;
• identify and agree the outcome measures that are appropriate to assess impact;
• agree systems for collecting, storing, analysing and reporting on data gathered.
Developing the rural economy
DROP 2008: Visitor Survey and Economic Impact Analysis (2008)
This report by Cumbria Tourism Research Department which commissioned a giant reflective temporary sculpture by Steve Messam. The study establishes a broad participant profile and estimates the potential economic impact of the event on the area, in terms of tourism benefit, concluding that an investment of £25,000 made an overall return of £319,926.
Protecting landscapes and safeguarding environments
Natural Partners: Arts in the Protected Landscape (2006)
This publication is designed to encourage those working in protected landscapes and in the arts to explore innovative ways of working together for mutual aims. It outlines the contribution the arts already makes to the rural agenda, illustrated with case studies that demonstrate good practice. Published by Arts Council England, South West (ACESW) and the South West Protected Landscape Forum (SWPLF). Now offline – available from Arts Council England, ISBN: 0728712989.
Creating safe, strong and inclusive rural communities
Participatory Evaluation of the Inspire Public Art Project (2005)
This evaluation report by Barefoot Research and Evaluation is an examination of how the Inspire Public Arts Programme in South East Northumberland engaged with stakeholders. It concludes that the project has increased the attractiveness of the environment to local communities, stakeholder organisations and visitors and that young people and others consulted felt that public art gave an area a sense of identity and had an influence on whether residents chose to leave an area.
Creating wellbeing through culture
Evidence Review: Healthy Communities and Sustainable Communites (2011)
The arts provide a promising approach to reducing health inequalities and promoting wellbeing. This brief report by Willis Newson identifies key evidence to support the use of the arts in reducing social isolation and improving community capital; encouraging active travel and physical exercise; and improving the food environment.
More evaluations and evidence of the value of public art projects are available from http://www.publicartonline.org.uk/resources/research/