Art produced for public places can be found throughout history and around the globe. The purpose for these artworks range from historical narrative, to educational intent, and in some cases to boastfulness. These works of art can be found in public buildings, on the streets or within the landscapes we travel, and in our cultural centers and political powerhouses. One can argue the purpose of
was created with the landscape and natural elements in mind much like the public artist of today use their surroundings as a guide. Public art is produced for public spaces that enhances the environment and informs or interacts with the public.
Public art has a rich history in the lives of Americans. There was a time in US history after the war for independence in 1781, that congress voted to erect a decorative column to commemorate the war and one year later a monument of General Washington to honor the Definitive Treaty of Peace. These monuments of public art were never built. This is thought to be because congress believed such things to be a luxury. This belief was swayed when President John Quincy Adams made a formal statement on government sponsorship of art, viewing it as an index of our progress as a new country and to mark our place in the history of a civilized nation.
In 1833, a group of Washington D.C. residents founded the Washington National Monument Society. They wished to fund a monument that would promote the city’s status. The original monument was to cost no less than one million dollars. The Washington Monument took some fifty years from its inception to its completion. During this time congress agreed to contribute funds, adding to the disagreements concerning the style of art that would best represent America and George Washington. Other factors holding back the construction of this monument were conflict among political parties, critics and artists. The
was completed by Lt. Col Thomas Casey who resolved the conflict with a marvel of modern engineering.
America’s great depression during the 1930’s was an era that supported many public artworks. When the US entered the great depression many feared that culture would be lost. It was believed that the arts would help the people pull through this hard time. A federally funded program was created to support the livelihood of artists and in doing so inspire the American people. Multiple public works were created with American ideals.
Many people believe that a well placed artwork created by an accomplished artist can lift public spirits and change public attitudes surrounding a given area. Public art can instill civic pride. When Alexander Calder’s
La Grande Vitesse
was originally installed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, it was met with opposition from the public. The notoriety of the artist gave the city cultural prestige which changed the public attitude.
La Grande Vitesse
now stands as a landmark in funding for the arts in the United States. Currently
La Grande Vitesse
is marked as a tourist spot in Grand Rapids it has become the city’s logo.
Public art has fought its way into our century. It has shown many faces and fought many battles. Public art has progressed from being considered an unnecessary luxury to a cornerstone in American ideals. Privately or federally funded, public art tells a story that both the artist and patron hope will last for many centuries to come.