Dr Ruth Fazakerley

RMIT University

Ruth Fazakerley is a researcher within the School of Architecture and Design, RMIT University, as part of a major project investigating the impact and reception of contemporary art in urban public spaces. Ruth has worked in multiple roles within the visual arts industry as an educator, visual artist, administrator, and arts writer. Ruth has a longstanding research focus on the field of public art and its discourses (including policy, funding and management), with a particular interest in considering the effects of such discourses on everyday urban social and spatial relations.

Public Art and Evaluation: A Temporary Turn?

The formation of ‘public art’ as a distinctive category of cultural practice and policy in the late 1960s is linked to the emergent phenomenon of art as a special field of government responsibility, and to the widespread reassessment of art itself (its forms, functions and social relations). New practices of environmental, site-specific and installation art claimed the centrality of active audience experience; unsettling the ‘proper’ locations for displaying and viewing art, blurring the boundaries between art and other things, and between artistic production and reception. ‘Public art’ might equally be said, however, to have emerged in Australian cultural policy throughout this period as the result of ‘supply-side’ lobbying for models of ‘advanced’, professional art and artists; models that have tended to leave the traditional relations of art remarkably intact. These observations point to some of the ongoing tensions embedded in diverse institutional and professional rationales for placing artwork in public places, and consequently the very different criteria against which public art might be evaluated. This paper provides a brief overview of recent Australian local government public art programs and policy, examining some specific cases in detail. These are discussed with respect to both the rich academic literature on the evaluation of culture, and the ever-widening range of claims made for public art’s instrumental and intrinsic benefits to cities, communities, citizens, artists and sponsors, frequently predicated on assumptions about the public benefits of active, audience engagement with art. In particular, the increasing attention within contemporary Australian public art programs and policy to issues of temporality, suggests the category of temporary public art as an important lens through which to examine dynamic responses by artists, arts administrators and policy makers to shifting imperatives for the articulation, measurement and evaluation of public art.



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