Public Art
Shane Kane

Public art is about creating, or perhaps reflecting, a 'sense of place' about an area or neighborhood. It can facilitate an attachment to the community and express the characteristics and the culture of the community.

The writer Gertrude Stein famously said when returning to her childhood home of Oakland, California after an industrial development had changed the place she fondly remembered, "There is no 'there' there."

While public art couldn't return the same feeling and connection one has about a place if its architecture and development pattern has been radically changed, as in razing a neighborhood to install an industrial park, the art of place-making is in the careful planning and design of streetscapes, buildings, public spaces, and linkages.

When people have that special connection to a particular place, they adorn it with cultural expressions and art. Design for the built environment and landscape are artistic expressions that help shape the meaning people have for places. Architecture, planning, landscape architecture, interior design and public art elements compliment each other in evoking meaning. The experience one has in those places is also part of the place-making symphony.

In some cities, Los Angeles for example, all public projects are required to incorporate art valued at no less than 1% of the cost of construction, ensuring that the artists’ expressions rise with the architects’ and designers’ expressions. Both represent a response to time and place, creating a special harmony, even if the design statements are not in alignment.

When appreciating public art, take notice of the context in terms of the surrounding buildings, the area’s history, the culture of the neighborhood and, if possible, the date of completion. Personally, I’ve found that architecture and public art are both responsible for creating meaning and attachment to places, as well as reflecting a larger statement about a community.

The picture above and the video below show the art on display at the West Hollywood Automated Parking Garage. The necessarily industrial and brutalist interior loading bays are decorated with colorful paintings on the walls and the modern expression of the exterior includes a piece from Ned Kahn that plays with the available light as seen in the video below.