Beyond public artopia: Public art as perceived by its publics

Martin Zebracki

GeoJournal 78(2): 303–317

Publication date: 2013


Since the upsurge of public art in the 1980s, geographers have been critically analysing creative practices as drivers of urban development and regeneration. They have commonly framed perceptions of art in urban public space from the perspectives of its producers and planners. Yet, the fundamental purpose of public art is shaped by its publics, which comprise a multifaceted audience. Some scholars have held a brief for examining perceptions of public art through its publics, but let things go at that. This paper attempts to address this under-researched yet important field by presenting a survey of publics’ perceptions of selected public-artwork localities in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp and Ghent. The publics’ perceptions were generally expressed in platitudes that were neither unreservedly positive nor unreservedly negative. But the distinct localities do show significant differences in publics’ perceived attractiveness of the public-artwork locality. These perceptions are further situated within publics’ cognitive, spatial, aesthetic, social and symbolic proximity to both the public artwork and its site. These empirical details provide insight into publics’ engagement with public art in particular places and thereby provide lessons for public-art-led urban planning. Moreover, this study instigates more solid qualitative research on this specific engagement.

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