The Art of Public Art

The Art of Public Art


by Kris Pearson

Penn Yan has been awarded a $10 million downtown redevelopment initiative (DRI) grant, aimed at sparking investment in and redevelopment of historic downtown. A key goal of the winning grant application was the promise to focus on art as an “economic engine.” Certainly there are some obvious ways in which art can have an economic impact – through sales, through development of live/work space to attract more artists to the area, and through the completion of the Sampson Theater. Less obvious, perhaps, is the place public art can have in spurring and supporting economic development.

Public art” is any kind of artistic endeavor planned and executed in a public place (usually outside) intended to be accessible to everyone. The purpose of such art is to enrich communities by igniting imaginations, encouraging thought and prompting discourse. A side effect of such artistic endeavors can have economic implications, but also may just be fun. Public art tends to be engaging for residents and visitors alike.

Public art can take many forms, including murals, sculpture, memorials, architecture, landscape architecture, digital mediums, performances and festivals. Public art can be temporary or permanent work and is generally, according to Americans For The Arts, created in response to specific places and community because it often interprets history, reflects the people of a certain place or reflects important local issues. It is art that attracts attention.

Although the Arts Center of Yates County does not have a specific, transformative project needing funding with DRI funds, the Arts Center Board has made it clear to administrators of the grant that they are willing to help encourage and assess the inclusion of artistic elements in proposed projects. Possible ideas include the incorporation of sculptural elements on signs, redesigning streetscapes to highlight historic architecture and landscapes or including artistic elements in public trails and parks. In fact, in a small way, the Arts Center will help begin the process this summer. Using funds from a grant from the Yates Endowment, the Arts Center is working in partnership with the Village of Penn Yan, several professional artists and local students of all ages to paint a number of picnic tables in local parks.

Public art is an interactive process that attracts attention to a community, helps “make place” and brings people together. We look forward to seeing more of this essential element develop. (originally published in Perspectives Jan/Feb 2019)