Deconstructing public artopia: Situating public-art claims within practice

Zebracki, M., Van Der Vaart, R., & Van Aalst, I.

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Zebracki, M., Van Der Vaart, R., & Van Aalst, I. (2010). Deconstructing public artopia: Situating public-art claims within practice. Geoforum, 41(5), 786-795.

Community art , Flagship art , Public Art , Public artopia , Public artscape , Situated knowledges

This paper problematises public artopia, in other words the collection of claims in academic literature concerning the allegedly physical-aesthetic, economic, social, and cultural-symbolic roles of art in urban public space. On the basis of interviews with public-art producers (artists, public officials, investors, and participating residents) in a flagship and a community-art project in Amsterdam, we analyse the situatedness of their public-art claims according to actors’ roles, geographical context, and time. The research suggests that public-art theory and policy suffer from three deficiencies. Theoretical claims about public-art and policy discourse feature, first, a failure to recognise different actors’ perspectives: claims fail to locate situated knowledges that are intrinsically (re)constituted by actors’ roles articulating with one another in time and space. Second is the lack of geographical contextuality: claims do not elaborate appropriately on distinct discourses about art projects’ spatial settings. Third is the lack of temporal perspective. Claims neglect the practice of public-art realisation: that is, the evolution of claims and claim coalitions over the time horizon of the art projects: preparation, implementation, and evaluation.

Main finding
The authors found it overly complex to decipher exclusive claims over the contribution of public-art to specific attributes of urban space. The actors, public officials, investors, and residents interviewed gave overlapping and hybridized responses involving the physical-aesthetic, economic, social, and cultural-symbolic claims which in turn situated the actors’ experiences with the project. Three factors need to be considered in future public-art policy research where the essentialist claims have failed to develop an understanding of the role of urban public art: 1) actors’ perspectives, 2) a geographical context, and 3) a temporal perspective. Currently, claims as such do address actor’s situated knowledge and their differing notions of space, they do not promote discourse regarding the setting and all its diversity, nor do claims consider their own evolution from preparation to implementation and evaluation.

Description of method used in the article
Using both purposive and snowball sampling, the authors interviewed public-art producers, including investors and public officials, to situate their claims over public-art. From the two case study projects a total of seventeen in-depth interviews were conducted with the actors involved plus interviews with four experts in public-art theory and practice. A discourse analysis was conducted on the transcripts and policy documents relevant to the projects. Additionally, the authors applied Donna Haraway’s concept of situated knowledge - such knowledges were the perspectives of the various actors involved, the specific geographical context of the art, and the temporal dimension over which the project unfolded. A framework of grounded theory was used to develop discourse-topics from the interviews and study the situatedness of their claims. Cross-referencing, participant checking, and peer approval were part of a ‘check for rigour’ employed by the researchers.

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Organising categories

Other or N/A
Case Study Interviews
Physical types
Geographic locations