What is the Value of Public Art?


The value of public art should not be under estimated.  Historically, communities have been able to differentiate themselves as unique destinations through their support of public art.  Public art can transform familiar spaces into installations that fire the imagination and cause people to think and question.  Public art can challenges us, elicit a reaction, and ultimately become the reflection of a community.


It is for these reasons that I support the city’s Cultural Arts Commission and its mandate to further the arts in Malibu. Public art would be an important civic benefit to the city and I believe that the Cultural Arts Commission understands this.


Today, public art can take a variety of shapes and scales.  It can be permanent or temporary. It can include murals, sculptures, installations, architectural works, new media exhibitions, performances, community works, among others. It can heighten awareness or reinterpret a location.  But, regardless of the form it takes, public art never fails to capture the interest of a passerby, creating a greater sense of identity and offering a context for viewing where we live, work and visit.


Art and artists are a significant part of Malibu’s creativity and dynamism. The city is home to numerous talented artists from all arts disciplines — visual arts, performance art and street art.  By collaborating closely with these artists the Commission could further help shape the city as a cultural destination.  Using art displays to imbue our city’s public space with a unique identity, we can redefine Malibu’s sense of place as an evolutionary concept that develops over time, reflecting the spectrum of social values within and around our community.  Malibu’s public art could be used to celebrate the region’s creativity, reflect and express its diversity and character, generate pride and belonging, and transform the city’s public places.  It can highlight the city’s uniqueness and redefine what makes Malibu special – so different from anywhere else.

According to Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Galleryin London, “art in public places should be considered as part of a much wider set of issues connecting planning, landscape and the environment. There are two very distinct traditions of art in public. One is the commemorative, going back to the Roman period (or possibly earlier), of wayside markers, statues and even monumental arches. The other is essentially artistic or decorative and more recent. Over the past half century, there are many occasions when artists have contributed their work to the planning of a particular place or space. However, problems have occurred when the commemorative work has not been sufficiently skilled and imaginative, or when the independent artistic project has not been properly planned, or added only as an afterthought.

 Art in public places needs careful commissioning and meticulous planning. Sometimes, important opportunities arise on a temporary basis. But in general, we should not shy away from commissioning important and permanent pieces of art – for whichever purpose – but doing it only with the very best processes of consultation and selection.”

While I agree with Ms. Nairne’s criteria for assessing public art, as more communities around the United States have develop public arts projects, many of them have ceded the creative function for their projects to experts and authorities.  The result has been that the communities themselves have often times been left out of the conversation and made to feel unimportant.  The public by default has essentially abdicated its role in nurturing the public and creative life of their cities.  And, sometimes, the priorities of the experts that they have entrusted to create the vision for their community are different than their own.


It would be ideal for all pieces of public art to stir the imagination of those people who experience it, whether through beauty, style or subject. But there is the possibility that a work of public art will fail to connect with people whose tastes are different or who just don’t get it. Sometimes a piece of public art is universally embraced by a community; but occasionally a work is overwhelmingly panned.

However, by fostering a dialogue with the public as well as Malibu’s artist community, the Cultural Arts Commission will be in the best position to develop a public art program that celebrates the city’s rich artistic variety and serves as an indicator of its creativity, wealth in talent, cultural diversity and openness.  The Commission can then select public artworks that stimulate and invite active dialogue and foster social interaction.


Malibu is a beautiful city.  But, I hope that by fostering a public arts initiative word will be out that Malibu is more than this.  It is a vibrant and creative cultural hub with a prosperous artist community.    I envision a public arts program that makes our local artists part of the public landscape; where the history of our community is recorded, as well as the vision for our city’s aspirations for the future.  I believe that the Cultural Arts Commission will create public art related events and programs that can not only bring Malibu closer together, they can also improve our community by providing it with a social cohesion.


When you look around the world, all of the great cities have public art.  This includes large cities, mid-size cities and small cities.  Malibu already is a great city on the world stage, so as we look toward the future I envision a time when we can all take a few moments away from the hectic rush of our everyday experience to have our lives made richer and fuller by public art.