Just Art for a Just City: Public Art and Social
Inclusion in Urban Regeneration
Joanne Sharp, Venda Pollock and Ronan Paddison
[Paper first received, September 2004; in final form, January 2005]
Summary. In this article, it is shown how cultural policy, and in particular public art, intersects
with the processes of urban restructuring and how it is a contributor, but also antidote, to the
conflict that typically surrounds the restructuring of urban space. The particular focus of the
paper is on investigating how public art can be inclusionary/exclusionary as part of the wider
project of urban regeneration. The first part of the paper examines examples in which public art
intervention has attempted to generate inclusion. Subsequently, attention focuses more on
examples in which the public art has been perceived as an aspect of cultural domination and has
thus provoked resistance. Throughout, it is argued that the processes through which artworks
become installed into the urban fabric are critical to the successful development of inclusion.
As part of the celebration of Scottish devolution, implemented in 1999, but also as a sculpture intended to be a part of the restructuring
of the â€˜new Glasgowâ€™, a statue to Donald
Dewar was erected at a prominent location
in the city centre. Generally acclaimed as the
â€˜fatherâ€™ of Scottish devolution, but also an
MP of long standing in the city, a statue to
him seemed a fitting celebration of his
achievements. Moreover, its emplacement at
the head of a newly pedestrianised area and
immediately outside the new Concert Hall,
itself a product of the cityâ€™s status as European
City of Culture in 1990, seemed an appropriate gesture to both the city and Scotland.
Yet, repeatedly, the statue has been
vandalised, to the point that the city council
considered relocating it, or at least, through
raising the height of the plinth on which it
stands, making its vandalism more difficult.
As it is, the statue remains at its original
site, although as a result of vandalism the
subject often lacks his spectacles and is
periodically embellished with graffiti.
The story the Donald Dewar statue tells is
one repeated elsewhere, that public art can
be read in different ways and that its uses to
beautify the city or celebrate its reimagineering do not necessarily enjoy universal consensus. In this respect, public art is no different
from art in general where matters of taste
and preference become paramount. For
public art, these issues become magnified precisely because of its visibility and hence its
â€˜inescapabilityâ€™, although reactions to it can
vary from the highly vocal and oppositional
to the unaffected. Time can help to mellow
public opinion to artworks so they become
part of not just the taken-for-granted but also
of the accepted landscape of the city. A few
years before the unveiling of the statue to
Urban Studies, Vol. 42, Nos 5/6, 1001â€“ 1023, May 2005
Joanne Sharp, Venda Pollock and Ronan Paddison are in the Department of Geography and Geomatics, University of Glasgow,
Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK. Fax: 0141 330 4894. E-mail: [email protected]; [email protected]; and [email protected]
gla.ac.uk. The authors are grateful to the anonymous referees for their comments. All illustrations of artworks in Gateshead are
courtesy of Gateshead Council.
0042-0980 Print=1360-063X Online=05=05-61001â€“23 # 2005 The Editors of Urban Studies
Donald Dewar, public opposition had been
vocal to the suggestion made by Glasgow
City Council to relocate statues from the
cityâ€™s principal square. Yet, ironically, the
statues commemorate largely forgotten political and military figures of the 19th century and
are symptomatic of the â€˜imposed monumentalismâ€™ of the Victorian city. What Lefebvre
(1991, p. 143) warned of as the ability of
â€œmonumental buildings to mask the will to
power and the arbitrariness of power beneath
signs and surfaces which claim to express collective will and collective thoughtâ€, is given
added weight through the impress of time
Such contradictions underline the different
readings public art attracts, but they also
suggest how its meaning, for the self and
more specifically the self as citizen, can be
read as more or less inclusive. Where exclusion reflects authoritarian imposition, it is in
the colonial city that the alienating effects
generated by public art, particularly that celebrating imperial control, foster political reaction and the will to decommemorate alien
rule. Thus, following Irish independence, the
monumental symbols to British rule in
Dublin were successively removed, sometimes by the state at others clandestinely by
nationalist groups. Yet as Whelan (2003)
shows in the case of the most obvious of the
icons, certainly the most prominent in the
urban landscapeâ€”Nelsonâ€™s Pillar modelled
on its London counterpartâ€”opinions as to
its fate were divided. Ultimately it was to be
decided by the bomb. Yet in spite of the
overt political symbolism of the pillar, its familiarity and acceptance as part of the everyday
use of the city, as well as appreciation of its
aesthetic qualities, meant that its removal
was not uncontentious. As Whelan has argued
With the passage of time it became a popular
meeting-place and viewing point … and a
symbol of the city centre that transcended
any political connotations (Whelan, 2003,
p. 206, emphasis added).
Such decommemoration is commonplace in
cities emergent from periods of authoritarian
ruleâ€”although not necessarily uncontested
as can be the remonumentalisation of
(urban) space (Czaplicka and Ruble, 2003).
Where the development of public art as part
of the repertoire of the gentrification of the
contemporary city lacks the overt political
symbolism of monumentalism (Levinson,
1998), this is not to suggest that its use is politically neutral. Deutsche (1996) argues forcefully how the promotion of public art and
architecture appears to neutralise politically
its use within the city yet masks its political
outcomes, particularly on those excluded
from the new image created. Contemporary
trends in public art in the city have tended to
eschew monumentalism as it was expressed
in the 19th century with its thinly disguised
appeal to eÂ´lite interests. Further, much as
public art and architecture in Rome or
Florence in the Reformation had been
fashioned to celebrate the city and in the
19th century became part of the process of
forging the City Beautiful, so its present use,
in part at least, can be seen as part of the ongoing goal of beautifying the city. Yet the
(re)aestheticisation of cities is not an apolitical exercise; the Hausmannisation of
European cities in the 19th century and its
â€˜imposedâ€™ nature and socially divisive outcomes have their parallels in the contemporary restructuring of the city under what
Harvey (2000) has described as â€˜neoliberalised urban authoritarianismâ€™. Much as historical analogy risks glossing over contextual
differences, what Gunn (2000) has sought to
demonstrate as the dominance of bourgeois
values on the landscapes of the cities of northern England in the 19th century has come to
be repeated albeit in a different guise in the
bourgeois revanchism underpinning contemporary urban gentrification (Smith, 1996).
What the experience of urban regeneration
continues to repeat is that the uses to which
culture has been employed as part of the
process of revival can be socially divisive
leading to what Mitchell (2000) has described
as â€˜culture warsâ€™. As has been widely
remarked upon (for example, see Bianchini,
1999; Boyle and Hughes, 1991), cultural planning immediately raises the question of
â€˜culture for whom?â€™ in which imposition and
1002 JOANNE SHARP ET AL.
the favouring of particular interests are likely
to engender reaction and resistance. To its
practitioners, there may be a degree of inevitability here, particularly where the reimagineering of cities has become so focused
around the winning of mega-events; the
focused nature of such events may be incompatible with the ability to address the diverse
set of preferences represented in the city.
Yet where â€˜culture warsâ€™ arise, their development reflects the wider problem (and challenge) apparent in contemporary urban
restructuring in which the battleground of
city politics comprises two â€˜sidesâ€™ of urban
entrepreneurialism caught up in the avowed
objective of making the city more competitive
and the increasing social inequalities that have
become so much the hallmark of such cities.
In this article, we want to show how cultural
policy, and in particular public art, intersects
with the processes of urban restructuring and
how it is a contributor, but also antidote, to
the conflict that typically surrounds the
restructuring of urban space. Even restricting
our attention to the field of public art, it is
apparent that these intersections are complex
and contextually dependent. Our intention is
to â€˜cut intoâ€™ the picture through asking two
sets of questions linked to the overarching
purpose of investigating how public art can
be inclusionary/exclusionary in the methods
through which it has been practised as part of
the wider project of urban regeneration.
â€”In the deployment of public art, what conditions contribute to or hinder democratically inclusive practices? How is local
participation able to counter topâ€“down
practices? How do design professionals,
architects and artists, seek to develop
inclusive practices? Is inclusion seen as an
end in itself or a means to an end, and by
â€”In what ways have the claims made for the
use of public art within urban regeneration
been inclusive? Under what conditions
does inclusion contribute to a sense of
democratic ownership over the inscription
of urban spaces? How does this vary
between different types of public art and
architecture, and in different types of
Fundamentally, our concern in this paper is to
offer critical insight into how public art and
architecture contribute or otherwise to the
social cohesion of the city. Key to the creation
of social cohesion is the belief that public art,
or the processes through which it is produced,
is able to create a sense of inclusion. By this
token, public art should be able to generate a
sense of ownership forging the connection
between citizens, city spaces and their
meaning as places through which subjectivity
is constructed. Initially, we outline the rationale for identifying public art and the critiques
that are used to counter the rhetoric underpinning its adoption. Here, we are concentrating
on the visual so excluding those other
elements of the arts, notably the performative,
that other writers have sought to include
within its definition (Deutsche, 1996;
Lippard, 1997; Miles, 1997). The main discussion is divided into two sections looking at
different types of in(ex)clusive practice
through different case studies. Initially, we
look at examples in which public art intervention has been sought inclusively.
Subsequently, attention focuses more on
examples in which cultural domination has
provoked resistance. Throughout, it is argued
that in the deployment of public art it is the
processes through which it becomes installed
into the urban fabric that are critical to
inclusion. However, practice also emphasises
differences between the motivations underpinning the use of public art, the scale of intervention and the perceived importance of it to
the reaestheticisation of urban spaces.
Why Public Art?
Public art is not simply art placed outside.
Many would argue that traditional gallery
spaces are public in their openness to interested
viewers, while, conversely, others would insist
that the privatisation of public space has
meant that art placed in public space is not
necessarily for all. Thus, public art is art
which has as its goal a desire to engage with
JUST ART FOR A JUST CITY 1003
its audiences and to create spacesâ€”whether
material, virtual or imaginedâ€”within which
people can identify themselves, perhaps by
creating a renewed reflection on community,
on the uses of public spaces or on our behaviour within them. Public art, then, does not
have only to be expressed visually. It can be
expressed in terms of soundscapes, media
(non-)places such as the Internet, on television, as well as in material spaces of inhabited
landscapes. However, given the focus here on
the links between arts and urban regeneration,
we have chosen to concentrate on the visual.
The core examples relate to the urban environment, yet consideration is also made of some
that may lie somewhat outwith the urban
realm but are integrally related to ideas of
ownership, identity and the creation of space.
In the UK, as in many other contemporary
Western countries, public art appears to have
an increasingly prominent role in urban
design. In 1993, around 40 per cent of local
authorities in the UK had adopted a public
art policy of some sorts (Miles, 1997, p. 96)
and since then progressively more cities, like
Newcastle and Gateshead, have been using
public art as a keystone in their regeneration
schemes. Hall and Robertson (2001, p. 7)
cite the general aim of adding an â€œâ€˜auraâ€™ of
qualityâ€, listing the Policy Studies Instituteâ€™s
summary of the contribution that public art
can make to a number of contemporary
urban issues: contributing to local distinctiveness; attracting investment; boosting cultural
tourism; enhancing land values; creating
employment; increasing use of urban spaces;
and, reducing vandalism. For its advocates,
there is an overall sense of the significant
role that public art can play in culture-led
urban regeneration, in the economic realm,
but also in terms of culture and community.
It is perhaps the perceived potential of
public art to work on multiple levels and its
adaptability that gives it such cultural viability. Public art not only contributes to the
visual attractiveness of the city and has the
ability to aestheticise urban spaces, but also,
through public art, authorities can signal
their willingness to deal with social and
environmental problems. For many
authorities, inclusive, community-based projects appeal because they are generally lowcost and yet are perceived to be able to yield
benefits beyond the aesthetic that correlate
with social policy objectives. However, the
way in which such projects are inscribed
into regeneration policy has implications, as
Phillips (1988) suggests, for the potential of
the artwork. The arts represent
the more intangible phenomenon whereby
cultural resources are mobilised by urban
managers in an attempt to engineer consensus amongst the residents of their localities,
a sense that beyond the daily difficulties of
urban life which many of them might
experience the city is basically doing
â€˜alrightâ€™ by its citizens (Philo and Kearns,
1993, p. ix).
Phillips (1988) and Deutsche (1996) have
been quick to point out that the notion of the
public should not be regarded as a neat,
always consensual affair. Many arguments
are based on essentialist claims to nature,
identity, place and community. They thus
fail to acknowledge the contested, fragmented
and mutable nature of these concepts.
Deutsche (1996, p. 270) worries that those
who see public art as leading to the enhancement of community miss the point in that
they â€œpresume that the task of democracy is
to settle, rather than sustain, conflictâ€. Public
space and the controversies surrounding
public art can only reflect their constituent
communities. Hall and Robertson (2001,
p. 19) argue that the role of public art should
be to encourage the sound of contradictory
voicesâ€”voices that represent the diversity of
people using the spaceâ€”rather than aspire
â€œto myths of harmony based around essentialist conceptsâ€. Phillips further points to the
bureaucracy that so much public art now has
to negotiate given the intended goals of
inclusionâ€”from the different committees
that must examine and accept proposals to
considerations of health and safetyâ€”that any
critical edge is lost and the resultant work
must be bland, engaging everyone but offending no-one. She says
1004 JOANNE SHARP ET AL.
Isnâ€™t it ironic that an enterprise aimed even
at the least, at enlivening public life is now
running on gears designed to evade controversy (Phillips, 1988, p. 95).
One of the more pressing issues characterising
contemporary citiesâ€”certainly one which
preoccupies much academic and policy
debateâ€”is how to achieve greater social
inclusion in cities which, locked into the
task of enhancing their competitive position
in an increasingly globalised economy, are
characterised by deepening socioeconomic
inequalities and increasing segregation. The
apparent unambiguity of the issue belies the
complications to which it gives rise. How is
inclusion to be defined? How is it to be
sought? What are the presumed linkages
between social inclusion and urban economic
competitiveness? Such fundamental issues
problematise not only how inclusion should
be formulated within urban policy but also
its purpose and benefitsâ€”questions that
recur within the use of public art as part of
the process of regenerating the city and its
As it has been suggested, even the linkages
between social inclusion and urban economic
competitiveness are disputed. To some (for
example, Marcuse and van Kempen, 2002),
social inclusion, or rather its antonym social
exclusion, erodes the ability of the city to be
competitive. Cities characterised by deep
socioeconomic inequalities would be less
attractive to investment capital undermining
their ability to maintain their competitiveness.
Further, as an argument to which New
Labourâ€™s urban policy has given explicit
support (Imrie and Raco, 2003), social
inclusion was not only important to the attainment of economic competitiveness but
through the Third Way the achievement of
both was possible (Giddens, 1998). Not only
would the opportunities to participate be
enhanced in a prosperous (urban) economy,
but also the benefits of growth would trickle
down the social hierarchy. Inclusion, then,
becomes a necessary part of a virtuous cycle
of urban growth, an argument which was to
be tested in different ways in the recent
research project Cities: Competitiveness and
Cohesion Research Programme funded by
the Economic and Social Research Council
in the UK. The evidence of the programme
was far from supportive of the linkage.
Indeed, as the authors to the report summarising the programme suggested, from the
evidence of Britainâ€™s â€˜successful citiesâ€™, such
as London, Leeds, Bristol or Edinburgh,
it is clear that competitive success is far
from incompatible with persistent concentrations of unemployment and social deprivation and high levels of social and
economic inequality (Boddy and Parkinson,
2004, p. 428).
What the research identified was what has
been empirically demonstrated elsewhere,
that urban economic restructuring is often
accompanied by deepening socioeconomic
inequalities (Sassen, 2001; Madanipour
et al., 1998). Even if, as Moulaert et al.
(2003) suggest, the impress of such inequalities varies according to the type of welfare
regime and the regulatory frameworks
through which urban policy is mediated,
such differences do not negate the uncertainty
surrounding the linkages between social
inclusion and economic change.
These uncertainties become replicated in
debates on the role of public art in urban
regeneration. Indeed in the case of public
art, doubts surround not only the contribution
it might make to urban economic growth, but
also to that of social inclusion. Two interrelated factors help to explain the problems:
first, the contribution of public art is often
deliberately symbolic; and, secondly, following from this, there are methodological problems in evaluating its impacts. Typically,
the outcomes of social inclusion as part of
urban policy become expressed in material
terms. Most urban policy is aimed at reducing
material inequalitiesâ€”for example, through
neighbourhood regeneration, the rehabilitation of sub-standard housing stock, training
programmes aimed at reinserting the unemployed within the labour market and through
JUST ART FOR A JUST CITY 1005
the quest to improve the delivery of public
services in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
As the consequences of public art are perceived to be symbolic rather than material,
this tends to increase the conflict surrounding
its use, which in turn is amplified by the difficulties in measuring the benefits which are
claimed for it (Selwood, 1995). There are
exceptions, notably what Plaza (2000) terms
the â€˜Guggenheim effectâ€™: the contribution of
iconic architecture to the generating of urban
tourism and more generally to the regeneration of the city. Most public art, however,
is more modest in its intervention and scale
and its economic contribution is often marginal and typically indirect. The indeterminacy of its economic contribution places
added attention on its imputed non-material
benefits. The intangibility and contested
nature of these benefits, how they contribute
to building social inclusion, shifts the emphasis from outcomes towards the processes
through which public art is produced and
how these can foster a sense of inclusion. In
other words, it is by focusing attention on
the democratic processes through which
public art is produced and the extent to
which these are inclusive that we can begin
to appreciate the role of public art in urban
Recent debates amongst post-modern
political philosophers provide pointers to
how democratic processes can (and should)
be more inclusive. Young (2000) provides a
succinct definition of inclusion as
a democratic decision (being) normatively
legitimate only if all those affected by it
are included in the process of discussion
and decision-making (Young, 2000, p. 22).
Her emphasis is on the processes through
which collective decisions are made. Critical
here is that the processes in which discussion
and deliberation amongst the multiple groups
and communities comprising the city afford
equal status to each and that debate becomes
the means of exposing and being more responsive to difference. Others, notably Fraser
(1995, 1997) but also Phillips (2004), have
taken issue with the emphasis given by
Young to the politics of difference and the
extent to which the overaccentuation of what
Fraser defines as cultural injustice has
diverted attention from socioeconomic redistribution. As important as such debates are
(and they become mirrored elsewhere within
the use of culture as a means of urban regeneration), they should not be allowed to overshadow the common ground that existsâ€”the
commitment to social justice and the contribution to its attainment through the need for
mutual recognition between groups with
different preferences, the acceptance of difference and the role deliberative processes of
political interaction can play.
Fraser (1995, p. 71) suggests that the processes through which cultural (or symbolic)
injustices tend to arise are fundamentally
â€œrooted in social patterns of representation,
interpretation and communicationâ€. Developing this, Fraser identifies three interrelated
practices commonly associated with cultural
injustice. These include non-recognition
which renders groups invisible â€œvia the
authoritative, representational and interpretative practices of oneâ€™s own cultureâ€ and
disrespect, the routine malignment â€œin stereotypical public cultural representations and/or
in everyday life interactionsâ€. Both are fundamental to the overarching injustice of cultural
injustice, of â€œbeing subjected to patterns of
interpretation and communication that are
associated with another culture and/or
hostile to oneâ€™s ownâ€ (Fraser, 1995, p. 71).
In short, in a democratic society, equal status
must be given to individuals and groups,
an idea that should saturate its practice
as well as being apparent in its cultural
While these dimensions overlap, the paper
uses each in turn to discuss how public art
has been used to foster social inclusion in
the city. Collectively, they provide pointers
to what, in public art terms, would define an
inclusive city, as one giving expression to
the multiple and shifting identities of different
groups, as indicative of presence rather than
absence, and of avoiding the cultural domination of particular eÂ´lites or interests. Such a
mapping represents an ideal. The reality of
1006 JOANNE SHARP ET AL.
cities, their social diversity and fluidity, and
the power relations underpinning the uses of
public art challenge the ability of meeting
Our approach is empirical, drawing on
specific examples of how public art has been
used to foster social inclusion in the city.
The case studies have been chosen to demonstrate the range of issues surrounding
inclusion and public art. No claim is being
made that the selection is either definitive or
wholly representative. Due to the lack of
evaluations into the success, or otherwise, of
public art projects, it is difficult to compose
a representative selection of good or bad practice and whereas iconic or controversial projects may receive critical and media
attention, those at community level are often
neglected in this respect. There are many
examples of public art and it is difficult to
choose examples without appearing anecdotal. Therefore, a deliberate attempt has been
to consider a range of known works from
Europe and North America many of which,
in process as well as product, have become
very influential contributing to subsequent
debates surrounding notions of inclusion.
That the works discussed are in a number of
cases relatively well-known examples of
public art should not be taken to imply that
they necessarily reflect what might, in social
inclusion terms, be considered as exemplars
of good practice. Rather, their selection has
been made to demonstrate the variety of
public artworks and of the modes through
which intervention can be sought. Further,
the focus on process allows us to investigate
how inclusive are practices, emphasising the
key issue of ownership. Studies elsewhere
on community participation have underlined
the significance of ownership as shaping the
value in which democratic participation is
held (in the different case of housing, see
Goodlad et al., 2001). Such a sense is apparent
within the different â€˜stagesâ€™ through which
participation takes places from agenda
setting to policy formulation to implementation, the critical factor being the extent to
which, and how, citizens are included in the
Public Art Production and Cultural
1. Non-recognition: Reclaiming Place and
When working on participatory projects,
artists are frequently dealing with communities who have been marginalised in mainstream urban histories. There is a general
sense that they have been made invisible
within the cityscape and therefore a key strategy in overcoming this sense of nonrecognition is to render their history visible
in some form. The very visibility of public
art and its traditional monumentalism and
aggrandising of civic â€˜heroesâ€™ mean that it is
a prime vehicle through which minority
groups can affirm their history and physically
mark their place within the layered histories of
the urban spaceâ€”the past being a keystone
upon which to build for the present and
future. As Ron Griffiths has noted
an important part of the experience of
exclusion is a weakened or non-existent
sense of identity and pride. A key step in
integrating excluded populations into the
social mainstream, therefore, is to assist
them to find their voice, to validate their
particular histories and traditions, to establish a collective identity, to give expression
to their experiences and aspirations, to
build self-confidence. (Griffiths, 1999,
There is a pervasive trend when working on
such participatory projects to seek to, as
Griffiths termed it, â€œvalidate their particular
historiesâ€. Often the recognition of a particular community and their association with a
specific place are integral to this process.
Early and influential work in this area was
undertaken by the non-profit arts organisation
The Power of Place, which aims to create
memorials or presences in the urban landscape
of Los Angeles to those â€˜forgottenâ€™ by dominant historiesâ€”for example, the Black slave
and midwife Biddy Mason (Hayden, 1995,
pp. 169â€“187; Miles, 1997, pp. 177â€“178).
Commissioned by the Community Redevelopment Agency and with funding from
JUST ART FOR A JUST CITY 1007
various organisations including the National
Endowment for the Arts, The Power of Place
liaised with the community and produced
books, posters, a photomural and a â€˜Window
of Memoriesâ€™ showing Betye Saarâ€™s Nostalgia
collages. In addition, Sheila Levrant de
Bretteville produced a permanent installation
Biddy Mason: Time and Place on the site of
Masonâ€™s homestead. Such modest interventions into public space restore and pay
homage to the dignity of minority figures
and yet, perhaps inevitably, are tainted with
an air of nostalgia just as other monuments
resound with patriarchal hegemony.
With some projects of this nature, there is
an air of opposition, of reinstatement, of stressing an alternative canon when, perhaps, there
is a need to yield more towards a â€˜differencing
the canonâ€™, as the art historian Griselda
Pollock has termed it (Pollock, 1999). As
Dorothy Rowe explains
Pollock implies that â€˜differencing the
canonâ€™ is not about the replacement of one
set of canonical works by another as
devised by feminism, but that it is a rather
more nuanced activity that continually
questions the borders of knowledge,
desires and power (Rowe, 2003, p. 28).
There is a danger amongst schemes that aim to
resurrect tangibly histories that they will iconicise or nostalgically myth-make in a retelling of history. Against this, the nature of the
contemporary community requires careful
consideration, necessitating a questioning of
its relationship with a particular place and its
links, if any, with the past. As Lucy Lippard
Like the places they inhabit, communities
are bumpily layered and mixed, exposing
hybrid stories that cannot be seen in a
linear fashion (Lippard, 1997, p. 24).
Replacing non-recognition with recognition
seems somewhat simplistic and making the
invisible visible, too literal. Although
through its sheer visibility public art seems
an ideal tool through which to restate a presence in the urban landscape and, by association, its history and evolution, it is here that
the artist has the potential to intervene, to
interact with the contemporary community,
to research and reveal the past in a subtle
and intuitive manner. In this, The Power of
Place has sought to insert itself sensitively,
creating varied forms of artwork and subtle
inscriptions in the cityscape. To see its work
as insular examples is to undermine the
ethos of the project. Besides Biddy Mason,
other projects have included the preservation
of historic buildings in the â€˜Little Tokyoâ€™ district of the city (Hayden, 1995, pp. 210â€“225)
and such places create a dialogue through
which a sense of the urban experiences of
minority communities can be felt.
Although a monument or memorial to a significant but neglected historical figure can
have wide resonances for a minority community and its recognition at large, working with
a collective history poses a different challenge. Recovering a neglected collective
history that has little or no presence in hegemonic histories or traditional museum
archives almost forces an artist to take an
ingenious approach. The onus is specifically
on the communal, the mutual endeavours
and the shared struggles. To commemorate
just one individual would undermine the
raison dâ€™eË†tre of the project. One innovative
response to such a situation was demonstrated
in Andrew Leicesterâ€™s state-funded project
Prospect V-III (1982) in Frostburg State
College, Maryland. Again emphasising the
importance of process, Leicester spent time
visiting mining sites and interviewing miners
and their families. The resultant work took
the form of what could be termed an alternative kind of museum, built in the style of
19th-century mining architecture and
housing artefacts donated by the minersâ€™
families. Furthering their involvement,
members of the local community chose to
provide guided tours, which suggested that
they had taken â€˜ownershipâ€™ of the work. As
well as reinstating a presence in the landscape
and recovering a lost history, Leicester made
the project relevant for the contemporary
community. Leicesterâ€™s inclusive process
and the resultant artwork have the potential
to function as inspiration for those wishing
1008 JOANNE SHARP ET AL.
to remember excluded communities in
contemporary post-industrial cities.
In dealing with public art, it is tempting to
focus on place-specific works as public art
tends to be associated with particular places
and situated in certain sites. However, just as
notions of community can transcend specific
geographical locales, so can artworks themselves. In 1991, the V&A initiated the Shaimiana: The Mughal Tent programme devised by
Shireen Akbar and aimed at south Asian
women and their children. Although encompassing broader aims than just recognition,
Akbarâ€™s project saw inclusion as a challenge
facing society at large and also, sensitively,
as an internal cultural issue as Asian children
were perceived to be losing a sense of their
south Asian heritage as they became integrated into British culture. Community
groups from across Britain were brought to
the V&A to examine aspects of south Asian
history using the museumâ€™s collection. As a
result, they produced a textile panel using traditional methods but reflecting contemporary
cultural concerns. The panel was then displayed as part of a tent, inherent in which
were ideas of home, transience and travelling
(Rowe, 2003). As well as opening the
museumâ€™s collection to a wider community,
the project brought together an immigrant
ethnic group perceived as being isolated
from mainstream British culture. Partly to
help overcome this sense of isolation and to
create dialogue between different female communities and cultures, those involved included
non-Asian women and the project integrated a
variety of religions. Therefore the project
attempted to build connections across a marginalised group and cultivate relationships
and awareness with other sections of society.
The Mughal Tent became an international
project and has been made accessible via the
Internet, its impact rippling out to a much
wider community altogether and its form challenging traditional conceptions of public art.
All of these artworks were inclusive in
terms of their target audience and, crucially,
their practice. They addressed communities
that tended to be excluded from wider urban
processes and, with them, created a tangible,
if, in the case of The Mughal Tent mobile,
marker of their presence. However, this is
not an overt claim for recognition through
mere visibility. They overcome Fraserâ€™s
notion of non-recognition in a tangible but
subtle sense, trying to increase awareness of
marginalisation and commemorate histories
in a manner meaningful for the present. In
this, a meaningful, democratic process has
been key to the sustainability of initiatives
and apparent in the outcomes.
2. Disrespect: Giving Voice, Countering the
Stereotype and Rediscovering the Margins
If giving voice through the vehicle of public
art can be the means of drawing the invisible
into the urban narrative, it also has a role in
drawing in those citizens and spaces whose
marginalisation stems from other causes.
That is, marginalisation in the city is not just
a product of being invisible. The poor, those
living in deprived neighbourhoods, are not
so much invisible as inaudible. Stigmatisation, the stereotyping of particular groups
and the urban spaces they occupy, is a
commonplace source of marginalisation.
The idea of giving a community a voice and
overcoming preconceptions was at the core of
InËœigo Manglane Ovalleâ€™s work TeleVecindario (1992â€“93) for â€˜Culture in
Actionâ€™, an outreach project devised by the
non-profit arts organisation Sculpture
Chicago (since merged into Chicago Department of Cultural Affairsâ€™ public art section).
Curated by the influential curator and writer,
Mary Jane Jacobs, â€˜Culture in Actionâ€™ was a
deliberate attempt to engage minority communities unfamiliar with Sculpture Chicago and
the artworld at large. Rather than artists with
an international reputation, those chosen
were known for participatory projects and, in
this instance, went through a two-year period
of collaboration with minority groups
(Drake, 1994, p. 13). The resultant artworks
took various forms from an altered paint
chart to a multi-ethnic festival to sculpture
and chocolate bars. Despite the length of
collaboration, criticism has been made that
artists tended to be â€˜shipped inâ€™, therefore
JUST ART FOR A JUST CITY 1009
having little knowledge of the communities
with which they were working (Hixson,
1998), and the value of the projects has been
questioned (Karasov, 1996, p. 25). Still, three
of the eight artists involved were Chicagobased, including Ovalle whose project was
arguably the most successful in the sense of
engaging with the local community.
Ovalle lives and works in the lowerincome, mainly Hispanic neighbourhood of
West Town, an area riven by gang violence
and the problems associated with social deprivation. Working with a community leader and
a co-ordinator of a Schools Programme,
Ovalle brought together a group of mostly
Latino teenagers, some from rival gangs. It
emerged that the teenagers felt misrepresented
and stereotyped by the media and countering
this became the impetus for their project.
With the assistance of local video professionals, they formed Street-Level Video
and produced a series of films of people in
the community discussing a range of issues
including gentrification, race and gangs. This
not only formed links between various factions of the community but also bridged generations. The project culminated in a â€˜block
partyâ€™ where 71 monitors were placed outdoors and broadcast these dialogues to the
public at large. Local residents voluntarily
provided electricity from their homes and
this wittily and symbolically furthered the
notions of empowerment central to the
project (Jacobs, 1995, p. 86). The party
brought people from across Chicago into the
neighbourhood, challenged preconceptions,
and places of street violence became more
neutral spaces for exchange and dialogue.
Importantly, Ovalleâ€™s project was not simply
a means to counter stereotypes and offer an
alternative but homogenised narrative;
instead, it involved a more perceptive communication of numerous identities within a
community and encouraged dialogue both
internally and with wider society.
A clear sign of the achievement of the
project has been its sustainability; Street
Level Youth Media remains active and the
â€˜block partyâ€™ is an annual feature. It is a
moot point, however, whether this success is
attributable to Ovalleâ€™s position as residentartist. Ovalle inevitably benefited from
pre-existing connections and knowledge and
yet, as Jacobs herself has noted, it is perhaps
oversimplistic to presume that â€œyouâ€™re
making a significant work for a place by
solely selecting people who are full-time residents of that placeâ€ (Drake, 1994, p. 13). It is
possible to argue that bringing an outsiderâ€™s
point of view, a fresh pair of eyes free from
any preconceptions, would be equally beneficial. Therefore, emphasis must, again, fall
on the implementation of a process, which,
in this instance, was democratic giving room
for multiple voices to be heard.
The articulation of numerous identities in
an artwork, however, can be problematic.
Although Tele-Vecindario recognised the
various facets of one community, mainly
Hispanic, process becomes more complex
when seeking to implement a democratic
practice and produce an inclusive artwork
within an extremely mixed neighbourhood.
In such circumstances, one solution has been
to facilitate a space for cultural exchange
rather than impose an artificial, fixed vision
of a community through a singular representation. When there is a shared sense of
history, religion, nationality or even loss contributing to a sense of community, then it is
perhaps easier to find a common theme or
direction for an artwork than when a community is multicultural and diverse, and whose
links lie in their residency on the same site
and their situation as a minority within the
larger social fabric of the city. In such a
social context, claims that public art can contribute to, if not create, community cohesion,
seem somewhat â€˜easier said than doneâ€™ and
misguided. As Ash Amin has argued
The distinctive feature of mixed neighbourhoods is that they are communities without
community, each marked by multiple and
hybrid affiliations of varying social and
geographical reach, and each intersecting
momentarily (or not) with another one for
common local resources and amenities.
They are not homogeneous or primarily
place-based communities … They are
1010 JOANNE SHARP ET AL.
simply mixtures of social groups with
varying intensities of local affiliation,
varying reasons for local attachment,
and varying values and cultural practices
… Mixed neighbourhoods need to be
accepted as the spatially open, culturally
heterogeneous, and socially variegated
spaces that they are, not imagined as
future cohesive or integrated communities
(Amin, 2002, p. 972).
Echoing the sentiments of Hall and Robertson
mentioned above, Amin argues that difference
must be an integral part of the process towards
inclusiveness. Recognising this, the arts
organisation nva worked with the most ethnically diverse community in Scotland in Glasgowâ€™s Pollokshields district to transform
derelict wasteland into â€˜The Hidden
Gardensâ€™. The gardens, in planting, planning
and a series of artworks and events, aimed to
reflect the horticultural influences of the
various faith communities in the local area.
Crucially, it aimed to be inclusive throughout
from initial conception to the final realisation
and subsequently (in its on-going management). It was a delicate and difficult process
that involved dialogue with a number of communities. Key here, particularly in the process
of initiating dialogue between the multiple
communities, was the appointment of a community facilitator sympathetic to the needs
of local groups. After learning about the area
and its constituent communities, drafts for
the project were successively discussed
between groups and the artists and horticulturalists hired by nva (a consultancy firm
specialising in the field). The participatory
process was critical in which local groups
were encouraged to assume that participation
would influence the design and use of the
space. In other words, by emphasising that
participation would help to define the nature
of the proposal, its implementation and, over
the longer term, its running, the dialogue
sought to encourage a sense of ownership
and empowerment (Paddison and Sharp,
2003, p. 11). Although the gardens have
restricted opening hours and this may raise
questions as to their accessibility as a public
space, since their opening they have proved
a popular space of retreat in an area underprovided with open spaces. They have also
become a tourist landmark, a positive development in bringing visitors to a part of the
city otherwise off the tourist map, and for
encouraging awareness of the ethnic diversity
of the city. Yet, by being drawn into the rhetoric of the cityâ€™s marketing promotionâ€”
multiculturalism as evidence of the cityâ€™s
promotional adage as â€˜The Friendly Cityâ€™â€”
the development courts usurping the communitiesâ€™ sense of ownership. By this token,
social inclusion is not just an aim of urban
regeneration; it can become also a means for
projecting the cityâ€™s image.
The increasing importance given to community liaison in such permanent projects
requires careful consideration: there can be a
substantial difference between consultation
and inclusionary practices fostering empowerment (Burns et al., 1994; Young, 2000). The
difference between seeking an opinion,
which might be little more than a public
relations exercise, and involving communities
more fundamentally in the deliberative
process culminating in decision-making
itself can have profound impacts on the
creation and reception of a work and the community at large. One example is Portsmouth
City Councilâ€™s commissioning of Peter
Dunn, most famous for his association with
the Art of Change, to produce an art scheme
for a sports and community facility in a
deprived neighbourhood. Dunn collaborated
with the community, other artists, architects
and landscapers to transform the environment
based on the principles of Agenda 21. The site
was given unique identity through the design
of earthworks, boundary walls, narrative pathways and wall hangings and its distinctiveness
was underscored by the landmark sculptural
work the Wymering Tree. Perhaps more
significant than the development itself,
however, was the community involvement.
A community board took control of the management of the project so they were not only
given a voice in the aesthetic nature of the
site, but also played an integral and decisive
role in the process and the implementation
JUST ART FOR A JUST CITY 1011
of strategies. The community involvement in
both the artistic and policy processes of the
project demonstrates the potential for the
community to determine the nature of
the artwork produced and be integral to the
changes taking place around them. This
works well at community level, but the
implementation of such a process city-wide,
where public art is increasingly being used
as a promotional tool, is more problematic.
The incorporation of major public art projects into regeneration schemes has become
a key factor in rebranding a cityâ€™s image,
especially in post-industrial townsâ€”in the
UK, Glasgow, Birmingham and Gateshead
are principal examples where culture, including public art, has been vaunted as a force in
changing each cityâ€™s fortunes. The Angel of
the North by Anthony Gormley has become
iconic not only for Gateshead but also indicative of the power that public art can yield as a
tool in changing the perception of the â€˜postindustrialâ€™ to the â€˜culturalâ€™ city. It is the figurehead for a scheme throughout the city that has
used public art for a variety of purposes (see
The Riverside Sculpture Park has reclaimed
a derelict industrial site and used it as a means
to bring art to the public. Similarly, Windy
Nook by Richard Cole is a prominent but sympathetic land art feature that has transformed a
colliery slagheap into an environmental
art-site to be used by the community. The
public also encounters art in a series of
schemes at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital
that explore the potential of the arts in
Figure 1. Public art and deprivation in Gateshead. Projects have focused on waterfront sites although
these include several of the most deprived wards (defined on basis of socioeconomic and health
indicators). The council has also sought to distribute public art works more widely in Gateshead.
1012 JOANNE SHARP ET AL.
healthcare. Alongside iconic pieces by
renowned artists, including Richard Harris,
Andy Goldsworthy, Colin Rose and Richard
Deacon, the public is invited to participate in
events such as the annual sculpture day. The
iconic and community aspects are not
wholly mutually exclusive, however, and
over 1400 children at 30 schools were
involved in work connected with Gatesheadâ€™s
Angel. Many of the artworks are concentrated
in areas of social deprivation and this highlights how public art has been used as a tool
to reaestheticise areas within a city as well
as the city at large. Implicit in this is the
notion that public art can bring economic
and social benefits alongside the aesthetic.
Their award-winning public art programme
has evolved alongside several more iconic
projects within the city centre including the
conversion of old flourmills into the Baltic
Arts Centre, the development of Gateshead
Quays and the building of the Millennium
Bridge linking Gatesheadâ€™s Quays to those
recently refurbished in Newcastle. Together,
the cities, which made a joint (but unsuccessful) bid for the 2008 European Capital of
Culture nomination, aim to create a centre
for cultural excellence with prestige residential and leisure developments. Here, the combination of iconic visual emblems, art and
architecture, have gone some way to crafting
the city as a cultural landscape.
It must be recognised that, although many
policy documents and participatory projects
appeal to overarching terms such as â€˜communityâ€™, â€˜identityâ€™ and â€˜placeâ€™, the general
conformity of sentiment belies the complex
situations facing artists, cities and their multifarious communities. The general lack of evaluative measures in community programmes
means that it is difficult to outline measures
of â€˜good practiceâ€™, make affirmations of
Figure 3. Rolling Moon (1998/90), by Colin Rose.
Photograph courtesy of Gateshead Council.
Figure 2. Angel of the North (1998), by Antony
Gormley. Photograph courtesy of Gateshead
JUST ART FOR A JUST CITY 1013
what constitutes a â€˜successfulâ€™ intervention or
add credence to the claims made about public
artâ€™s social impact. As urban regeneration
initiatives attempt to transform cities, public
art itself seems to be undergoing a transformation, moving from traditional civic monumentalism towards seeking a more socially
inclusive and aesthetically diverse practice.
Rather than impose or enforce inclusion, it
has to be intuitively and sensitively sought,
recognising the importance of difference and
the vitality in diversity. When working with
inclusive projects, the emphasis seems to lie
with the process rather than the product.
This may raise questions about the artist
deferring to the community, artistic integrity
and aesthetic quality. It challenges institutions
and funding bodies to consider the worth of
intangible as well as tangible outcomes, temporary as well as permanent products. Traditional notions of the artist as creative
genius have to be reassessed and the artist
has to find a position between ingenious
creator and creative facilitator. The use of
culture in the reastheticisation of the urban
environment also brings the danger that
areas, as they become more attractive places
in which to live and work, experience gentrification. Communities, places and process
are integral but intricate components of the
artwork. The extent to which each is considered and the manner in which their
inclusion is sought and managed has profound
implications for the aesthetic and social outcomes of the completed project.
3. Cultural Domination and the Arts of
Works such as Gormleyâ€™s Angel of the North
or monumental architecture that signal a
cityâ€™s distinctiveness (for example, Londonâ€™s
â€˜gherkinâ€™ building, Glasgowâ€™s Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Birminghamâ€™s
mirrored Selfridges store or the competition
between global cities to own the worldâ€™s
tallest building), demonstrate the importance
of reworking the skyline as an attempt to refashion the image of the city as a whole. Such
developments are clearly intended to
enhance the image of the city, repackaging it
as a commodity for consumption in the postindustrial age (see Urry, 2001). Public participation is generally not high on the agenda in
this form of â€˜authoritarian populismâ€™, a Victorian image of city leaders knowing whatâ€™s best
for the city and for its citizens. In claiming to
be a signifier for the city as a whole, of course,
it hides the inclusions and exclusions inherent
in any singular vision for a community.
Furthermore, the ever-increasing use of
notions of inclusion through public art works
in urban regeneration efforts makes one
important assumption: that these processes
are compatible. However, as Malcolm Miles
has argued, due to the very nature of capitalist
development, it is not always possible to draw
public art into development in a way that is
equally beneficial to all parties
Developers do not develop in order to construct the â€˜city beautifulâ€™. They construct
the city beautiful in order to conceal the
incompatibility of their development with
a free society (Miles, 1997, p. 130).
From such a perspective, any sense of involvement with the process then is inherently
linked to collusion with forces that are fundamentally more interested in capital investment
or maintaining social order than with improving the lives of residents of a city. Certainly,
critics of Glasgow 1990 City of Culture
were quick to point out the benefits to industry
and investment in the city but that, for the
majority of Glaswegians, nothing had
changed (Boyle and Hughes, 1991). Not dissimilar criticisms have arisen in other cities
as Broudehoux (2004) has demonstrated in
The Making and Selling of Post-Mao
Beijing. For others, there is a problematic of
where public space isâ€”in contemporary
cities, the spaces where people meet are
increasingly being commodified so making
truly grassroots expressions in public space
more difficult (Mitchell, 2003; Phillips,
1988). Therefore, it is debatable whether
public art can ever be wholly inclusive,
especially within urban regeneration where
complex factors of public space, commercialisation and commodification, and cultivating
1014 JOANNE SHARP ET AL.
an iconic cultural cityscape are intimately
entwined. In this environment, public art,
rather than participating in an inclusive
agenda, can function as an oppositional or
resistant force, highlighting excluded groups
and visualising protest to dominant regeneration schemes.
4. Resistance and Regeneration
As opposed to the usual iconic permanence of
art prominent in regeneration schemes, these
interventions tend to be temporary and take
a variety of forms.
For instance, the redevelopment of the
London Docklands in the 1980s stimulated a
battle for land and for visibility that was
articulated through the nature of the visual
landscape in art. The reimaging of the landscape, however, neither accepted nor accommodated all: local people felt that not only
had they been dispossessed by the new developments but that they had been written out of
this new landscape. Developers talked in
terms of a â€˜virgin siteâ€™ for development,
erasing the resident population and those
who had lived there in the past. The gentrified
landscape romanticised a particular part of the
areaâ€™s history, focusing on middle-class
cultures of consumption rather than workingclass cultures of production from the area
(just as was later to occur in Glasgow where
the rewriting of the cityâ€™s landscape in terms
of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the
Glasgow School of Art were seen to be at
the expense of working-class cultures of
â€˜Red Clydesideâ€™ and social struggle (Boyle
and Hughes, 1991)). In addition, the new
developments privatised space: waterfront
walks became private property, high walls
were erected around new development and
the Docklands Highway ran through the
Trade Unions building and local housing.
One of the attempts to rewrite silenced community back into landscape was through the
Docklands Community Poster Project which
visualised narratives of community presence
back into the redeveloped landscape through
the use of billboards showing aspects of
local history and identity, and expressing
peopleâ€™s opinions of the development (Dunn
and Leeson, 1993; Bird, 1993). These large
posters displayed local versions of place in
the landscape of regeneration, refusing to be
hidden behind the reworked image. They
aimed to write people and their history into
the landscape rather than an aesthetic
focused around property and heritage.
Other expressions of resistance to this redevelopment took the form of vandalism and
graffiti. To some, as a form of cultural
expression, graffiti are giving a voice to
those who do not own the capital and buildings upon which billboards are mounted, and
so cannot legitimately write up their messages
onto the urban landscape. It is a way in which
those who have been passed over by regeneration can write themselves back into the landscape, refusing to conform to the new urban
order. Some feel that, although we are â€œas
much creatures of the public realm as the
private realm, we find ourselves silenced
whenever and wherever we might create
meaning to share with othersâ€ as public
space is tightly controlled by capitalism and
the capitalist state (Luna, 1995, np). Graffiti
and culture jamming (the addition of slogans
to billboards and advertising to subvert the
intended message) draw attention to the
power and meanings inscribed into the urban
environment. Its artists are attempting to
denaturalise the taken-for-granted landscapes
that we each use on a daily basis, asking us
to be aware of the power relations that work
through this mundane space (Cresswell,
1998; Deutsche, 1996).
Some have incorporated this politics of
opposition into their approach to creating art
in the cityâ€”for instance, Krystof Wodiczko,
particularly in his series of Projections.
These nighttime projections of images onto
prominent buildings and statues were used to
challenge the meanings of the landscape
elements that dominate contemporary cities.
Thus, in projecting a swastika onto the South
African embassy in London 1985, missiles
onto war memorial columns and images of
disability onto heroic statues, Wodiczko was
asking the viewer to think about what it is
we choose to memorialise in our landscapes,
JUST ART FOR A JUST CITY 1015
and which experiences, events and narrations
of history are silenced (Wodiczko, 1999).
Artists such as Wodiczko also seek to represent those in the urban landscape who
cannot represent themselves. As the
Docklands example showed, there are many
who are marginalised by processes of redevelopment, or who are displaced by the
processes of regeneration (Smith, 1993).
Wodiczko developed the Homeless Vehicle
Project, a mobile vehicle for homeless
people to use to sleep, wash and keep their
belongings in. It made homeless people
visible, drawing them out from their naturalisation as an accepted (if unfortunate) part of the
modern urban landscape (Smith, 1993). The
vehicle became a talking-point between
pedestrians and the homeless, and its consciously missile-like design made comparisons between the US governmentâ€™s spending
on social welfare and defence unavoidable.
Michael Rakowitz similarly exposed the
relationship of homelessness to urban development in his ParaSITE series which placed
inflatable constructions over heat vents of
buildings to provide homeless people insulated and private spaces where they could
existâ€”parasiticallyâ€”alongside the modern
buildings. As he put it
While these shelters were being used, they
functioned not only as a temporary place
of retreat, but also as a station of dissent
and empowerment; many of the homeless
users regarded their shelters as a protest
device … The shelters communicated a
refusal to surrender, and made more
visible the unacceptable circumstances of
homeless life within the city (Rakowitz,
2000, pp. 234â€“235).
Clearly, the homeless vehicle project and
ParaSITE are not solutions to homelessness
and the other negative social products of
urban redevelopment. Their role as a cultural
product of the city is to make visible the naturalised relationships that are established
through the built form, to amplify â€œthe problematic relationship between those who have
homes and those who do not have homesâ€
(Rakowitz, 2000, p. 235). As Fraser argued,
amongst the debates surrounding the use of
culture in urban regeneration attention needs
to be paid to economic redistribution. Works
like those of Wodiczko and Rakowitz highlight the problematic notions of inclusion in
schemes of urban redevelopment.
5. Problems of Process
In practice, the division between public art
initiated by authorities and grassroots
approaches is much messier than it may
seem. State-sponsored projects now almost
always include a community element, while
some artists who have previously worked
with grassroots projects now work for both
â€˜topâ€“downâ€™ and community-led projects (for
instance, the Art of Change). Critical artists
claim that their work establishes a conversation between the spaces and the people who
inhabit them. This is perhaps questionable:
who really has a conversation? To what
extent does this rely upon an eÂ´litist language
of art and politics? On the other hand, art
that is developed through the effort of local
governments and other local development
agencies does not necessarily turn out the
way that was intended, alternative meanings
and practices might emerge, people can reinscribe images with personal and local
meaning. As mentioned earlier, this makes
clear the importance of understanding the
processes through which public art is made
and placed within different parts of the city.
When this fails, it can promote interesting
debates over issues, but can also be intensely
demoralising for the communities involved.
The complexity of the processes through
which public art is made meaningful to different communities is perhaps most (in)famously
seen in debates over Richard Serraâ€™s Tilted
Arc (see Senie, 2002). The work was sited in
Federal Plaza, Manhattan in 1981 as one
of the last in the Kennedy-inspired Artin-Architecture programme to bring art into
public spaces. Serra, an artist known for his
â€˜anti-environmentalâ€™ works, saw his sculpture
as challenging the bourgeois bureaucratic
spaces that usually contextualise the display
of artworkâ€”in this case, the sanitised,
1016 JOANNE SHARP ET AL.
alienating square created by the meeting of
two blocks of the Federal Building. The sculpture was constructed from Corten Steel, 120
feet long, 12 feet high and 2.5 inches in
width. Covered with a surface of brown rust,
Tilted Arc bisected the square, tilting off
both its horizontal and vertical axes (Blake,
1993, p. 261). Serra challenged this order
through a sculptural form that refused to
offer a reconciliation of architecture and
sculpture but instead revealed â€œa conflicted
space that lays bare its internal divisions to
its inhabitantsâ€ (Blake, 1993, p. 254).
There was a great deal of opposition to the
sculpture. Some saw it as too oppressive, too
big, too dominant or too rusty. New Reaganite
federal leaders used this popular opposition to
push for the removal of the artwork as part of
an attack on the National Endowment for the
Arts and radical art more generally. These
right-wing opponents assumed that public
opposition meant that, like them, the public
rejected Tilted Arc in favour of the previous
environment of the square. This was not
quite the case. On the whole, it appeared
that public opinion was in agreement with
Serraâ€™s critique of the alienating square but
not the aesthetic form he had adopted. They
found the sculpture as sterile as the space it
sought to subvert. One worker said â€œI do not
care to be challenged on a daily basis by
something designed to be hostileâ€ and
another concluded that â€œWhat we need … is
something to enliven our lives, not something
which reinforces the negativity of our work
livesâ€ (Blake, 1993, p. 284).
This raises important questions about
artistsâ€™ responsibility to community. Some of
the most artistically successful and challenging
work may not be easy to live with. While it is
possible to walk away from a work in a
gallery, once works are incorporated into
lived spaces they cannot always be avoided.
What the Tilted Arc controversy forced us
to consider is whether art that is centered
on notions of pure freedom and radical
autonomy and subsequently inserted into
the public sphere without any regard
for the relationship it has to other people,
to the community, or any consideration
except the pursuit of art, can contribute to
the common good (Gablik, 1995; quoted
in Miles, 1997, p. 90).
For post-Tilted Arc work, there has been less
in the way of â€˜parachuted inâ€™ artists (but see
Public Art Review Special (July/August
1998) Public Art: Fail) and, instead, context
and community involvement are increasingly
important. However, this is not to say that
these tensions have disappeared (regardless
of how inclusive the intentions are).
Furthermore, while properly managed
processes can help to maximise a sense of
ownership and even empowerment, if these
processes are interrupted for whatever reason
this can have negative consequences for the
communities involved and for future attempts
at community participation. An example of
this was the Five Spaces, public spaces developed by artists and architects with communities around Glasgow as part of Glasgow
1999 (UK City of Architecture and Design).
Although the Five Spaces were to be one of
the â€˜flagshipâ€™ events, when 1999 arrived they
enjoyed a much less significant public
profile than the other spectacular (and centralised) events, Homes for the Future and the
design centre the Lighthouse. While the
Lighthouse took nearly half of Glasgow
1999â€™s budget of around Â£27.5 million, the
Five Spaces was allocated less than onetenth of it. Media coverage of the Spaces
was similarly less prominent than for the
Lighthouse and Homes for the Future, so
that, when asked at the end of the year, very
few visitors, Glaswegians or even design professionals could name the Five Spaces as a
prominent feature of the programme (DTZ
A â€˜trial runâ€™ of spaces was implemented in
1997, when the artists took up their residencies and developed plans for the spaces. This
aimed to develop a process through which
communities could become involved in the
selection of the spaces and the kind of work
to be included. Each of the designated communities was located around the city, often
in challenging environments. For some, the
JUST ART FOR A JUST CITY 1017
excitement of the Five Spaces was that, for the
first time, the communities themselves were
being asked for what they wanted rather than
â€˜expertsâ€™ telling them what they needed.
Process was central to this project to ensure
that there was community involvementâ€”and
therefore hopefully a sense of ownershipâ€”in
the resulting spaces. Initially, there were to
be over 20 of these spaces chosen by
Housing Associations around the city. The
initial cut took the number to 15, then to 11
and then, well into 1998, the number was
reduced to 5. For those who had been expecting their space to be developed, this was a
major blow and perhaps reinforcement of the
sense that their community was marginal to
the city. Even for those communities which
did have their spaces developed, the culture
of uncertainty and experiences of being let
down before meant that community leaders
were unwilling to involve the community
until the funding was absolutely assured by
which point there was not sufficient time for
Glasgow 1999 were determined that all the
spaces would be delivered in 1999 (all but one
were) and so they put in place a property management firm to deal with the arrangements of
making the space. Here, institutional power
heavily influenced the processâ€“governance
framework. The day-to-day ownership of the
project was taken away from the Housing
Associations for the sake of efficiency. Many
Housing Association members felt that this
pushed them out of the decision-making
process and there has consequently been a
loss of ownership, which has impacted the
maintenance and management of the Spaces.
Long-term problems are emerging because
of this interruption of the process and lack of
consideration to sustaining the Spacesâ€”
Glasgow 1999 did its job and disbanded
whereas the Spaces remain. The Housing
Associations were not consulted about small,
everyday issues and consequently, in one
instance, the landscaping in one of the
Spaces has been easily vandalised. Two
yearsâ€™ labour was arranged for upkeep, but
now it is up to the Associations to make
arrangements, which it appears some cannot
manage, or, as a result of their exclusion
from the decision-making process, choose
A great deal of the good that was done
through these projectsâ€”of bringing people
in to feel a sense of communal ownership, of
making networks and so onâ€”has been
undone. Harding explains the problems that
emerge when acts of vandalism are not
immediately rightedâ€”and here we could
also add other forms of decay such as flooding, breaking of light bulbs and problems
with water features, all issues plaguing the
When this happens, what was initially a
focus of local pride quickly degenerates to
the point where people become even more
disheartened than they were before.
Rectifying the damage done by vandals
immediately sends out a clear message to
people in deprived areas that their welfare
is just as important to the authorities as
the well-being of people living in affluent
circumstances (Harding; quoted in
Gordon, 2002, np).
However, leaving things in decline reinforces
the image of a community in similar trouble.
The story of the Five Spaces emphasises the
importance of good process for the success
of public art, but also makes clear just how
fragile process can be, that it is â€œseemingly
capable of derailment at any juncture for a
variety of reasonsâ€ (Nikitin, 2000, np).
The infamy of the Tilted Arc controversy,
and others like it, has meant that community
involvement and consultation are now
central to the process of siting and producing
works. However, this does not mean that
inclusion is necessarily achieved. Quite how
it is that â€˜the communityâ€™ should be involved
can, in itself, become an exclusionary practice. Often, the same members of the community become involved and consequently others
may feel further marginalised in light of these
activistsâ€™ participation. There is also often a
spatial and temporal essentialism in defining
community. While city-centre art works are
seen as serving the whole city, when attention
turns to public art in more marginal areas,
1018 JOANNE SHARP ET AL.
there is a sense of a number of unchanging and
spatially discrete communities existing in a
neat patchwork across the city. Inclusive
approaches to designing public artâ€”workshops, meetings and so onâ€”can ensure ownership by those in that community and hence
encourage care and lessen the likelihood of
vandalism. However, as communities within
cities are not water-tight spaces, this will not
prohibit members of nearby neighbourhoods
from (mis)using the public art too. Similarly,
approaches that draw in community members
at one time cannot ensure that future community members will still feel a sense of ownership over the product. As Senie (2003)
suggests, this requires a critical rethinking of
notions of site-specificity. She argues that as
â€œa public site invariably undergoes seasonal
and/or developmental changes, any work
would logically have to be frequently or
periodically redesigned to remain specificâ€
(Senie, 2003, np). Once again, process, here
defined in the long term, is central to success.
Perhaps too much is expected of public art.
Too quickly, a number of critics have blamed
these projects for not making enough of a
difference. John Calcutt ridicules such
Expecting public art to solve social problems is either naÄ±Â¨ve or cynical. In attempting to critically evaluate public art projects
such as Five Spaces we should bear in mind
that fact that the production of art arises
within and is subject to many of the same
social, political and economic pressures
that affect its reception (the increasing privatisation and commercialisation of the
public sphere, the fragmentation of unified
social and political agendas into the specialised concerns of competing interest
groupsâ€”each with their own social and
cultural priorities, and so on) (Calcutt,
2002, p. 11).
Calcutt is not suggesting that public art such
as the Five Spaces is somehow put beyond criticism, but that it is impossible for such works
to transcend their social, political and, perhaps
most importantly in the case of urban regeneration, economic context. This again points to a
need for developing appropriate forms of
evaluation. Rather than an evaluatorâ€™s postproduction critique, however, there is a clear
need for evaluation to take place throughout
the processâ€”from the inception, through the
process to the final work. Assessment needs
to be made of the process and its success in
being â€˜inclusiveâ€™ as well as the governance
structure through which it is implemented.
Such evaluation has the potential to ensure
that a meaningful process would yield a meaningful outcome and that problems of process
In a critique of the uses of culture in the reinvention of Barcelona that is all the more
refreshing precisely because of the frequency
with which the city is cited as a role model,
Balibrea (2001) has argued that the consensus
over the cityâ€™s development needs to be challenged. As significant as have been the
achievements of the city, and particularly of
the municipal government, in physically
transforming the metropolitan area including
run-down inner-city areas as well as the waterfront and harbour, and in bolstering its economic competitiveness, particularly as a
tourist and convention centre, such achievements have been accompanied by increasing
social polarisation and the development of
peripheral estates whose residents have
endured a worsening quality of life in both
the 1980s and 1990s. The absence of any significant dissent (â€˜culture warsâ€™) particularly
over flagship projects may be read as
support for change. But it may also be read
as false consciousness in which â€œthe
production of consensus [as] the principal
means of legitimising domination and of
co-opting potentially critical citizensâ€ has
been able to convince the citizens that their
interests are equivalent to those of dominant
economic classes (Ripalda, 1999; Esquirol,
1998; quoted in Balibrea, 2001).
While such alternative interpretations can
themselves be challenged, their value lies in
unmasking the rhetoric that surrounds the
JUST ART FOR A JUST CITY 1019
use of cultureâ€”including the benefits claimed
for public artâ€”in urban regeneration. Here,
the â€˜Barcelona modelâ€™ represents something
of an extreme precisely because of the frequency with which it is cited, although exemplars of â€˜good practiceâ€™ elsewhere are
routinely identified as â€˜success storiesâ€™. For
urban regeneration agencies, the search to
repeat the â€˜Guggenheim effectâ€™ has become
a mantra through which the reinvention of
the city is to be realised within which public
art, and particularly iconic design, occupies
a critical position.
As the literature attests, it is too easy for both
policy-makers and academics to focus disproportionately on the more spectacular, particularly the iconic, in its ability to reinscribe
place. A blinkered gaze risks the failure to
identify the different scales at which public
art has come into play just as it tends to give
emphasis to particular representations of it.
As various examples have demonstrated, the
use of public art is no more confined to the
major cities as it is only to those spaces in
them whose (re)valorisation has become part
of the hegemonic project of fashioning the
competitive city. In the intersticesâ€”in those
places and spaces which are â€˜outsideâ€™ the
dominant discourse of international competitiveness that characterises the big cityâ€”the
recognition of the contribution of public art
to the reinscription of local place has become
commonplace through the work of artists and
community groups, as well as by the state
acting through local agencies mindful of the
agenda of inclusion.
It is important to remember here that,
regardless of the scale and type of intervention, the installation of public art within the
urban fabric is inevitably a political exercise.
Thus, as Jameson has argued, buildings
interpellate meâ€”[they] propose an identity
for me, an identity that can make me
uncomfortable or on the contrary obscenely
complacent (Jameson, 1997, p. 129).
Much the same could be said for public art.
The roots of this effect lie in its visibility,
which in turn influences how we perceive
the urban environment. Admittedly the
influence of agency at this juncture means
that how we perceive and interpret the interposition of public art varies as Jameson recognises and as was apparent through the Donald
Dewar statue. Inevitably reactions to public
art will vary. But even amongst those whose
reaction to public art is more passive or â€˜complacentâ€™, its effects on the definition of the self
and the self as citizen are real, if unarticulated.
The power of interpellation of public art is
both a source for consensus and conflict
within the reinscription of place. Within official discourse, the benefits of public art are
expressed in its ability to instil civic pride
and to contribute to local distinctiveness, yet
the ability of public art to be seen as at odds
with its intended symbolism emphasises its
contentious nature. The play of inclusion in
public art operates at two interconnected
levels in the ways in which it is read as part
of city space and the processes through
which it is implemented. Sufficient experience
exists to demonstrate that the two are connected, suggesting that a sense of ownership
is a key component of inclusion. Yet neither
is fixed precisely because of the multiplicity
of ways in which public art is read and the
fluidity of urban societies that defy the unity
As much as this is suggestive of the importance of participation within the process of the
production of public art, its advocacy will
need to take account of the problems typically
encountered in its practice. How local participation is structured to give adequate recognition to different local groups and how
deliberation is conducted to ensure that these
interests are able to have their voice heard
and listened to are both fundamental to the
practice of inclusive democratic processes. In
both, experience of local participation highlights the problems likely to arise: the extent
to which it can be dominated by a relatively
small number of local activists, the reluctance
to become involved and the problems in ensuring that meetings are conducted on the basis of
equality and mutual respect and recognition.
Even, then, in the interstitial banal spaces in
which everyday life is locally lived within
cities, the installation of public art needs to
1020 JOANNE SHARP ET AL.
be sensitive to local diversity. Its use needs to
be aware that inclusive democratic practices,
far from producing consensusâ€”through
which some common sense of local pride
can be produced amongst diverse groupsâ€”
may become an agonistic process. The exercise of participatory democracy through recognition and respect and the avoidance of
domination opens up the space for conflict
reflecting the diversity of local voice. The
reinsertion of public art in the city reveals
how its use, and the language through which
it is advocated, can be appropriated, no more
so than in those revalorised spaces that are
identified as key to the (re)definition of the
competitive city. It is in the banal urban
spaces in which everyday life is constructed
and experienced in particular that the advocates of public art have been able to argue
(and demonstrate) how the insertion of
public art can aspire to be inclusive as
process if not necessarily as outcome.
Yet the capacity of public art to foster
inclusion is at best partial, able to address symbolic more than it is material needs. Whether
this means that public art has become an
unwitting agent in the overprivileging of cultural justice at the expense of socioeconomic
redistribution is a moot point. However, this
argument not only exaggerates the influence
of public art on economic regeneration, but
is itself an overeconomistic interpretation of
the meaning of urban citizenship.
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