LivingArts: Define 'Forever'


As I wrote my previous posts, I promised I would be more positive, so this is an attempt to frame one of the issues I’m most passionate about in public art with a 'strategic diplomacy' that is not necessarily my natural instinct.

One of best things that happened in public art last year was when a Bristol, England-based organization, Situations (, published a 'rule book' entitled 'The New Rules of Public Art'. This short list of 12 rules was basically a manifesto which challenge the assumptions we have and work with in public art. I try to read these on a regular basis to remind myself, in a succinct way, of the philosophical shift to work towards if public art is ever going to change.

One of the 12 rules 'It's Not Forever' – (simple and direct, a skill indeed) – takes on the issue without using words which people seem surprisingly put off by or create a barrier. I've learned that in my field, people are very afraid of the word 'temporary'. 'Durational' is too 'artsy' and 'permanent' is expected. Yet when you think about how to redefine preconceived notions, language is a huge part of it. When we examine the root of the issue, we reveal something more sensitive such as memory and ownership, which lead me to think about words like ‘experience’, ‘value’ and ‘meaning’.

There is a huge expectation set up that the mass of work produced live 30+ years. Our lives, our cities and places change on a constant basis and once the work becomes static, I think public art loses its wondrous ability to question and respond, to go beyond the momentary and capture longevity, because a memorable experience lives long in the mind and heart.

I also know the issue of defining permanency is a question of sustainability, a pattern I’m sadly seeing the outfall of on an almost daily basis: too much public art, drained budgets and careless or entirely lacking ownership. Yet I also understand that investment is made of time, money and so much more, of each artists’ practice and personal commitment. And I think that can be heightened even more if the approach focuses on the experience rather than the defined outcome – imagine you could respond to a Call for Artists whose deliverable was to create a memorable experience in the public realm with the artists’ expertise defining what that meant – and if it meant the value of the outcome was a more engaged public, a greater understanding of the public art process, is that not a value we are all trying to achieve?

There are ways to spend capital dollars on non-capital assets, and there are ways to create landmarks and legacies that are not static and rigid. We encourage ‘events’ and want to ‘animate’, but let’s look at what that really means in a public art context, and respond accordingly. Relationships are durational, and buy-in takes time, so we have the opportunity to examine how artists are the tellers of a certain reality and are creators of our present story, to be continued…