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public art - is there a point?

The City of Hamilton Plan 2001 requires the integration of public art with all developments having a gross floor area of more than 50,000 sq.ft., and, also, suggests it as a substitute for upper storey setbacks. Compliance with this requirement has varied widely across the artistic and design spectrum with, in my opinion, somewhat 'ho hum' results.

trellis at maxwell roberts buildingSome features feel incomplete, such as the potentially interesting landscape feature installed at the Maxwell Roberts Building, corner of Church Street and Par-la-Ville Road, Hamilton, where the selected vines have not grown to their full potential several years after the building is completed. (One hopes it's the fault of a hurricane or two, perhaps?) Others are merely perplexing, such as the water feature at Seon Place, Front Street, Hamilton; although, in fairness, I probably have not driven past this building sufficient times at night to more fully appreciate the concept.

The Bermuda Government and Corporation of Hamilton have played their parts too; commissioning enough statues for all of us to start tripping over them.water feature at seon place

I would argue that some blame for the seeming lack of purposiveness behind the public art scheme can be placed on the small lot sizes in the City. Some blame can be placed on the lack of priority attached to this important planning policy by developers. However, a portion of the blame might be attributed to the way in which public art is promoted in the City Plan. To quote: 

Public art can play an important part in the vitality of urban areas, especially by enlivening public spaces and creating visual interest. At the street level, art and craftwork can be readily appreciated by passers-by... Examples of public art projects...include carved and decorative stonework, paving, sculpture, street furniture, glazing, railings...

Not really inspiring. The planners are right, though; there is a point to public art in terms of its ability to enhance and add value our cityscape but it needs to be taken more seriously.

I recently stumbled across this more motivating promotion of public art in the article Reducing Ecological Footprint Through Public Art (Plan Canada, Winter 2011, Vol. 51, No. 4, p. 37):

Public art refers to art that is displayed in the public realm... Public art can evoke a site's former use or cultural urban landscape, creating aesthetically appealing public spaces while increasing the site's cultural and economic value. Pleasant public spaces create pride, support human gathering as well as provide pleasing pedestrian areas to journey through. Functional urban furniture can be intentionally sculptural and artistic, and therefore be considered public art.

The article makes several points about public art that are applicable to our island. Following its advice, public art in Bermuda needs to contribute more to the City's identity and enrich its quality of life, as well as honour our culture and history.

At present, public art is something of an afterthought and that's a pity.