Reason for topic selection
According to Neill and Ridley (2013), public art is not just any form of art but principle and mechanisms that are employed in specific areas to improve the changing environment courtesy of different art works. In addition, Neill and Ridley (2013) argue that public art is part of the public history besides being part of the evolving culture of a specific location, society, community, nation, region, or the global arena. Public art helps in reflecting and revealing the society other than adding meaning to the places in which it is placed. There are two main ranges of public arts; functional (aesthetics objectives that are developed in order to serve utilitarian purposes) and non-functional. Despite a lot of debate on the two, it is important to establish the similarities and contrasts between these two forms of public arts. Therefore, the reason for picking the topic is to identify, evaluate, and analyse the similarities and differences between functional and non-functional public arts.
Varied scholars such as Willats (1976), Jones (1992), and Cartiere and Willis (2008) amongst others have continued to provide a deeper insight on the different aspects of functional public art. According to Willats (1976), art and social function begins from the fact that art practice should be operate in an environment that contains groups as well as institutions of people. In this respect, the groups and institutions are expected to ensure that such art practices are effectively maintained as an identifiable activity that belongs to the society. The arguments and evaluations by Willats (1976) clearly confirmed that public art is an important aspect to the groups and institutions of people within a given society. In a bid to explain the concept of public art, Willats (1976) also argued that it is important for people to embrace the concept of pluralism without forgetting relativism of the perception of audience in respect to the public art. In this argument, Willats (1976) used two large-scale projects in west London and in Edinburgh. Willats (1976) also explained the fact that there is a need to develop a formidable relationship amongst individuals and between individuals and groups courtesy of a thorough examination of perceptions that form from social coding structures. The arguments by Willats (1976) are consistent with the analysis provided by Bergmayr et al. (2013), which ascertain that public art continues to play a significant role in enhancing the social relationships amongst individuals especially in groups and institutions.
Therefore, the article by Willats has provided a deeper understanding of art and social function. From the author’s perspective, it is clear that art continues to play a significant role in the social function. Michalski (2013) and Frencken (2010) also confirmed that indeed public art continues to play a significant role in social relations or functions. Through public arts, individuals are able to meet and interact whilst exchanging idea. Therefore, public art has been a good source of enhancing social relationships amongst the players within such areas, which are sentiments that are also proposed, discussed, and evaluated by Cairo (2012). Through the three projects, one from London, another one from Edinburg, and the Meta Filter project, the author has explained that public art is very essential in social places. Public art influences the social relationships of groups and institutions that are composed of people. From the perspective of the analysis and evaluations performed by Willats, the current project seeks to provide a deeper analysis of the concept of public art whilst employing two main projects, that is, Art by Ruth Claxton–Lantern Parade and Frank Hodgson, Self-portrait, 1930, SA/AT/1/1/5. The analysis of these two projects in the study will help in extending the arguments, evaluations, and analysis performed by Willats in respect to public art.
Cartiere and Willis (2008) argued that the practice of public art usually brings together various players including artists, activists, curators, administrators, art writers, city planners, and educators derived from different regions. The article provided an in-depth evaluation and understanding of public art practices. According to the authors, the expanding practice of public art continues to incorporate various forms of the media and discipline ranging from painting to new media, from sculpture to design, and from architecture to performance. Such views are supported by the analysis and evaluations of Sahai and Seyalioglu (2010), which revealed that indeed the concept of public art is very wide and encompass different stakeholders and works. On a different perspective, Neill and Ridley (2013) have also consistently argued that public art especially within the social perspective brings together different cultures, traditions, and backgrounds, which make it easier for an individual to appreciate diversity and its role in providing adequate social relationships across the globe. In this respect, it would be interesting to analyse the functional public art, that is, the public art that brings together people from all sects of life and backgrounds whilst giving a perfect account of how such public arts can be enhanced for the purposes of ensuring that there is effective social interaction.
The incorporation of such forms of media continues to make public art an important aspect within the current social environment. In addition, the authors, Cartiere and Willis (2008), have also discussed and explained the fact that there has been a significant evolution of the public art field whilst taking into considerations the complexity that comes with the same practice. The complexity of public art practice as identified by Cartiere and Willis (2008) arises out of the fact that the practice is still lost between commercial art market as well as the public institutions. In other words, art continues to be in the commercial art market on one hand and in public institutions on the other hand. It is also important to note that in their analysis and discussions, Cartiere and Willis (2008) have explained the fact that it is important to re-examine public art from different perspectives. One of the perspectives proposed is the contemporary fine art practice. Another perspective that the authors identified is the contribution of art practice to the art history. It is on the proposals by the authors that require further and in-depth analysis and evaluation of public art from a contemporary fine art perspective that the current project intends to look at two main projects and try to establish the functional public art from the recent perspective.
Wilats (1976) provided an understating of the relationship between art and social function. In the argument and analysis by author, it is clear that art performs a crucial role within social functions. Based on the author, art practice needs to occur or operate in an environment containing groups of people on one hand and institutions of people on the other hand. An environment containing groups of people or institutions of people is a social place. Therefore, when art is practiced within such environments, it creates or has a significant role on the same. From the arguments of the author, it is clear that art cannot be practiced in a vacuum rather it requires the interactions of varied people in such functions. While providing consistence arguments to those of Wilats (1976), Michalski (2013) also argued that public art continues to have a significant impact within social relations that are experienced within different functions. In any social function, there are usually aspects that enhance how people relate. Such aspects include art. The practice of art within social functions as explained by Michalski (2013) continues to influence the relations of the different groups of people and institutions of people as explained by Wilats (1976). From the perspective of the arguments by these authors, it is clear that art is very essential within social places especially in respect to how its practice continues to influence the social relations in such functions.
Cairo (2012) on the other hand explained the concept of public art and its practice within social places by focusing on its role in the enhancement of the social relations especially amongst the various players within the functions. According to Cairo (2012), public art is very crucial in enhancing the social relations that are experienced within different social arenas. Through public art in social forums, the different players interact extensively. The interactions amongst the players in a setting aimed at promoting public art is considered very crucial. Cairo (2012) also added that players within public art forums have sentiments that are proposed, discussed, and evaluated. The idea of proposing, discussing, and evaluating sentiments especially in respect to the art works of the different people enhances the social relationships amongst the players in the public art. Willis (2001) on a different perspective explains the significance of public art especially in regards to bringing on board different aspects such as varied forms of media and disciplines. The disciplines that are incorporated within public art as explained by Willis (2001) include painting, new forms of media, and the use of sculpture. In addition, the author has identified design, architecture, and performance. When all these forms media and disciplines are brought on board through public art, then the interactions amongst the different players are enhanced. From the arguments and analysis performed by these authors, it is clear that public art has a significant and a special role in enhancing relationships amongst different players within social settings.
Neill and Ridley (2013) also explored the aspects of public art from a social perspective. According to Neill and Ridley (2013), public art brings on board different cultures, traditions, and backgrounds. The idea of bringing together different cultures, traditions, and backgrounds enhances the relationships amongst the players within the public art forum. Notably, the idea of public art and its functions within social functions and relations as discussed by Neill and Ridley (2013) is viewed from the perspective of diversity appreciation. When people from varied walks of life including culture, tradition, and backgrounds come together, it becomes easier for such persons to understand the concept of diversity as well as appreciate its existence. The idea of appreciating diversity is key in providing adequate social relationships within the various social gatherings as discussed and highlighted by Neill and Ridley (2013). The arguments by Neill and Ridley (2013) have confirmed that indeed public art plays a significant role within social functions and relations. In this perspective, it would be important to analyse further the function of public art with respect to primary and secondary data. The idea of analysing the function of public art especially in different settings influenced the main objective and intention of conducting the current study. Therefore, the findings of the current study will be useful in providing additional knowledge on the role of public art besides informing different players and stakeholders on how to strategies various aspects of public art for the purposes of enhancing their role within the society.
l Case studies –– Eastside City Park
In order to achieve the objective of this study, Eastside City Park has been selected as the case study for analysing and understanding the functional public art. Eastside City Park is located in the Eastside district of Birmingham City Centre. Designed by architects Patel Taylor with landscape architect Allain Provost, the park was opened to the public on 5 December 2012 at a cost of £11.75 million.
Even though there are some projects that explain the funcationality of public art, the proposed study selected the Eastside City Park. There are varied reasons that led to the selection of Eastside City Park as the case to study in analysing functional public art. Firstly, the case was opened to the public on 5th December 2012, which means that there have been numerous social functions and relations that would help in analysing functional public art. Notably, for more than 130 years, Birmingham City has never had a public part. As a result, Eastside City Park is the first major new park that is located in Birmingham City for more than a century. Consequently, it would be interesting to understand how the establishment, creation, and opening up of the Eastside City Park have impacted on the social relations and functions within the city.
Eastside City Park was also selected for the study owing to the fact that it has significantly increased the amount of green space in the City of Birmingham and it will be interesting to establish or find out how the aspect has changed the perception of people in relation to public art; thus providing an understanding of the functional pubic art. It is also important to note that Eastside City Park continues to provide attraction to visitor besides linking the said visitors to the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum. It is beautiful to see how a functional public art links up with the other forms of art such as the museum. It is on the basis of this reason that the study picked on Eastside City Park as the case of study. The other reason for picking Eastside City Park as the case for study is due to the fact that it has been used to encourage more people to live and work within and around Birmingham City, which means that the park has been used to influence the social relations and interactions of the people living and working in the city. As a result, it would be interesting to establish how the part, as a functional public art, has been able to achieve the same.
In gathering the information and data, the study opted for questionnaire and interviews. The questionnaire was designed to include varied questions relating to functional public art. Majority of the questions in the questionnaire was long-structured with a few, especially those that sought to establish the demographic characteristics of the participants, were short-structured and multiple choice questions. The questionnaire used in the study is provided in the following table:
Questionnaire for Public Art
1. What is your gender?
2. What is your age?
Under 21 22-39 40-59 60+
3. Between function and non-functional public art, which one do you like or prefer to the other?
Functional Public Art Non-functional Public Art
4. I am answering as a Birmingham
5. What do you understand by the term public art?
6. What are the benefits and impacts of public art in your life?
7. What types of public art are your favourite?
8. Would you like to participate in the public art?
9. Do you prefer a functional public art or non-functional public art? Please give a reason.
10. What do you think the future development trend of public art?
The research study also used an interview to obtain more data and information especially with respect to understanding the functional public art. Due to constraints in time and other resources, the study identified the Chinese artist Tao Bai as the interviewee. Various questions relating to functional public art were asked. Even though there were specific questions in which the interviewer asked the interviewee, there were cases where the answers provided by the interviewee required some explanations and so the interviewer had to develop more questions on the stop. Nonetheless, the specific questions that were asked included the following:
1. What do you think the concept of public art?
2. What do you think that the public art should take into considerations in order to function adequately?
3. According to your opinion, what is the role of public art especially in social places and gatherings?
4. What are some of the aspects that should be considered when designing a public art?
5. Have you ever been to or studied the Eastside City Park?
6. If so, what is your judgment on making the Eastside City Park a public art place?
Findings and Analysis
The findings from the questionnaire established that the number of people interviewed or questioned were equal in terms of gender. In this study, 50% of the male and 50% of the female participants took part in the study.
In addition, the study aimed at finding out the number of participants that preferred one form of art to the other. According to the responses obtained from the participants, 70% prefered functional public art to non-functional public art whereas only 30% preferred non-functional public art and functional public art as illustrated in the followin figure.
A number of respondents preferred functional public art to non-functional public art. The respondents were asked to state why they preferred functional public art to non-functional public art, a number of respondents confirmed that it (functional public art) helps in improving public participation. In addition, the participants confirmed that unlike non-functional public art, public art is very useful in promoting social relations. When people meet in different social places courtesy of the functional public art, the interrelationships amongst such people are enhnaced; hence, the social relations are also improved. The respondents also confirmed that functional public art is preferred to non-functional public art owing to the fact that the former helps in making the ordinary person to love and appreciate art. By ordinary, the respondents referred to as people other than the artists. Clearly, the role of functional public art makes it superior to non-functional public art; hence, increasing the popularity of the former as compared to the latter.
From the perspective of Eastside City Park case study, it is clear that before it was opened to the public, there was very little public participation. However, through opening up the part to the public, there have been numerous public participations. Therefore, functional public arts are preferred to non-functional owing to the fact that they will allow for extensive public participation (Cairo, 2012). The other aspect of functional public art identified in the study, which is also true to the case study is the idea of enhancing social relationships and interactions amongst the public. When Eastside City Park was opened up to the public, there was not only a lot of public participation but it also allowed for the members of the public to adequately interact. The interactions amongst the members of the public enhanced their social relations (Michalski, 2013). The last aspect that the participants confirmed, which is true to the Eastside City Park is the idea of engaging more the ordinary person as well as making such people to appreciate and love art. Many people who have attend various functions at Eastside City Park end up not only loving the place but also loving and appreciating the artistic work that is presented in the part.
The other aspect identified in the study was the reasons as to why people would end up supporting non-functional public art even though it is inferior to functional public art especially with respect to functionality. Based on the information obtained from the participants, it was clear that if an artist puts too much attention to the functionality, it will lead to artists unable to express their vision freely. Whereas functional public art revolves around functionality, the non-functional public art is about expressing some message or feeling through art (McClellan, 2008). Therefore, if an artist continues to concentrate mainly on the functionality of the artistic work so far produced in order to create functional public art, such an artist is unlikely to express his or her vision, feeling, or message freely. Consequently, there is a need to also engage in promoting non-functional public art.
In the case study of Eastside City Park it is true that a lot of interest and concentration have been placed on the functional public art. The idea of functionality of artistic work has overshadowed the fact that art is supposed to be used in expressing feelings, vision, and specific messages to the audience. Even though there has been overshadowing of non-functional public art, Eastside City Park contains some forms of non-functional public art, that is, there are specific artistic works that are used in expressing vision, mission, objectives and messages of the artists. Within the part there are such artistic items. However, the idolising of the concept of functionality makes people or audience to have little or no attention on the same. From this perspective, it is important for every functional art to provide room for the advancement or display of non-functional public art.
Other than obtaining information through the questionnaire, the study also interviewed Chinese artist, Tao Bai. The interview was done on 15th March 2015 by internet. Various questions were asked and the information provided by the artists was analysed in line with the subject of the study, which was to analyse the functional public art.
In the first question, the artist was asked to explain what he understands by the concept of public art. According to Bai, the concept of public art is very wide and encompasses different stakeholders and works. Bai explained that public art is not an art “form” but rather a way of expressing community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. In addition, Bai explained that public art is a part of public history, part of evolving culture and collective memory. The interviewee was quick to note that the public art reflects and reveals our society adds meaning to our cities. From the information provided by the artist, it is clear that public art concept is an integral part in every society, community, nation, or region. The information provided by the artist is consistent with the argument provided by Michalski (2013), which states that public art continues to shape the human history by providing an understanding on the historical, cultural, and values of a society. When these aspects are explained, Knight (2011) argued that the entire history of an organisation or society is enriched. In this respect, public art continues to be an important aspect within societies, organisations, nations, and regions. In our case study, Eastside City Park is a beautiful place that aims at enhancing the evolving culture, history, and values of the people within and around the Birmingham City.
The study also asked the interviewee about his thoughts on what the public art should take into considerations in order to function adequately. The artist believed that beauty arises from functional considerations. According to him, functionality is important to design, but it isn’t the only thing that should be considered. From the information provided by the artist, it is clear that even though functional public art supersedes the non-functional public art, the latter should not be ignored courtesy of focusing on functionality. The sentiments of the artist are echoed by the analysis and arguments performed by Clements (2008). Clements (2008) argued that even though functional public art continues to play a significant role in the lives of the public members and the artists as well, there is a need to allow for the artists to express their values, missions, views, feelings, and specific messages that they might have for the community members. Indeed, functional public art is very important but there is a need to give artists space to also express their feelings in the form of art. The analysis of the information by the artist on the fact that functionality should not be the only aspect considered, our case of Eastside City Park has also explicitly proved that from the various artistic works that try to express the feelings of the artists.
The artist was asked to state the role of public art especially in social places and gatherings from his opinion. According to the artist, it is clear that public art plays a significant role in bringing together people from different walks of life. The idea of bringing people from different cultural backgrounds is essentially important in enhancing the social relationships and interactions amongst the community members. When the members of the public converge at a social gatherings brought about by the concept of art, the artist confirmed that it is very likely that such a community will live in social harmony. The sentiments of the artist are confirmed by Amin (2008), Cairo (2012), and Mulgan (2008) who argued that functional public art is very important within social places since it brings people together. When people are brought together, it becomes easier for the members of such a community, society, organisation, nation, or region to freely interact and exchange ideas. The idea of free interaction and exchange of ideas is very vital in making sure that harmonious living is attained. In the case study, the opening up of the Eastside City Park was very crucial in promoting peace and harmonious living amongst the members of the public living in Birmingham. Through Eastside City Park different people could converge and interact freely, which resulted into enhancement of the social relations and interactions amongst the community members.
The artist was asked about some of the aspects that should be considered when designing a public art. The first aspect that the artist identified is the functionality though he stressed the fact that it should not be over-considered. In his submission, the artist confirmed that every public art plays some specific functions; hence, the need to consider functionality. McClellan (2008) and Amin (2008) confirm such arguments by stating that functionality of public art should guide not only the artist but also the other members of the public and stakeholders in designing the same. For instance, in our case of Eastside City Park, the designing and developing of the part was based on its functionality, the various stakeholders involved in its design and development considered the role or function it was going to play within the region. Therefore, functionality should be considered when designing public art.
The second aspect identified by the artist as concerning the designing and development of public art is the available information in terms of history, culture, and values. According to the artist, public arts are essential aspects in the community that are used in portraying the values, cultural aspects, and history of a particular community. Therefore, before designing the same, it is important to consider the available information in the same line. Cartiere and Willis (2010) confirm the arguments by the artist by stating that indeed every public art should focus on specific elements in the society. Lack of such considerations will not help a lot especially in making the public art to be relevant as argued by Zebracki (2011) and Umbanhowar (2012). Eastside City Park is a good example of a public art that was designed after such considerations. The amount and extent of public arts included in the park is clear evidence on how the Eastside City Park was designed, developed, and constructed after considering all the aforementioned aspects. From this respect, other than functionality, the stakeholders charged with the responsibility or mandate of developing public art should consider the available information especially in respect to the community, society, organisation, nation, or region in question.
When asked about Eastside City Park, the artist confirms that he has not only read or studied about the park but also been part of the same. In justifying his answer, the artist confirmed that Eastside City Park is an idea that was proposed in the early 2000s. The artist confirmed that the part was to be a focus for the Curzon Street area of Eastside’s regeneration. Furthermore, the information provided by the artists concerning the Eastside City Park confirmed that the park was developed fund was secured from European Regional Development Funds (ERDF). The fund was used in buying and clearing the land as well as the buildings that were where the park is currently situated. Indeed, the artist is well conversant with the Eastside City Park.
The last question was about the judgment of the artist on making the Eastside City Park a public art place. Bai confirmed that making Eastside City Park a public art place was the best that could have happed to the park. In his argument, he said that if the park had not been made a public art place then it would have lost its meanings. From his analysis and arguments, Bai confirmed that a lot of positive impacts have occurred due to the development of the park. For instance, Bai pointed out that the part has increased the amount of green space that is available within the City Centre. Before the park was created, the amount of green space that was available was too small. However, with the development of the park, there has been an increase in the green space, which continues to attract visitors. Bai also confirmed that it is amazing how the part was built next to Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum. Building the park next to the museum was a good idea especially given that it allowed for visiting of both the park and the museum, which seemed abandoned earlier on. Lastly, Bai stated that evidence confirming that it was not a mistake to make the Eastside City Park a public place is the fact that people have been encouraged to live and work in the area. It is important to note from the analysis provided by Tate (2013) and Low et al. (2009) that Eastside City Park has been a public art that continues to enhance the image of the city locally, regionally, nationally, and even internationally. With such positive image, it is more likely that people will be attracted to the park. Hence, it is true what the artist has confirmed based on the analysis provided by Zadeh et al. (2010) and Herzog (2010) that Eastside City Park as a public art has been of immense significance to the members of the public.
The above research aimed at analysing the functional public art. In order to perform the analysis, information and data was gathered courtesy of the questionnaires and interview of an artist, Tao Bai. Based on the information obtained from both the questionnaires and interview, it is clear that functional public art is essential in every community. The reasons as to why functional public art is considered to be essential include the fact that it enhances the social relations amongst members of the public, allows an interplay between art and social function, influences the relations of the different groups of people and institutions of people, enhances the social relations especially amongst the various players within the functions, and it brings on board different cultures, traditions, and backgrounds. There is no doubt that functional public art is an important aspect especially in explaining the history, values, and cultural aspects of a given community or society.
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