By Penny Balkin Bach
Working in the field of public art automatically puts us in touch with the public, art, and its social context.
In fact, public art may be one of a community’s most overlooked and under appreciated cultural assets; it’s accessible “on the street”, any time, free to all, without a ticket, and diverse in content. It can be enjoyed spontaneously, alone, or in groups, and by culture seekers as well as new audiences.
There is data out there that supports the benefits of public art to the community.
The Knight Foundation and Gallup Corporation’s Soul of the Community study, for example, indicates that community attachment creates an emotional connection to place (which also correlates to local economic growth). They determined that the key drivers of attachment are social offerings, openness, and the aesthetics of place–all potential attributes of public art.
It’s fascinating that these drivers scored higher than education, basic services and safety, and the economy. Also, a local summer visitors survey conducted by the Greater Philadelphia Marketing & Tourism Corporation (GPTMC) found that of the city’s ten most popular outdoor activities, outdoor art ranked second–above hiking, jogging, and biking.Public art can create community attachment, if we overcome perceived barriers and open pathways for engagement. With this in mind, the Fairmount Park Art Association developed Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO (MWW:AUDIO)—a multi-platform interactive audio experience, available for free on the street by cell phone, audio download, Android and iPhone mobile app, QR code, or online as streaming audio and audio slideshows.
While our delivery system is comprehensive and impressive, our primary goal was to develop a conceptually sound, content-rich program that could be adapted to new technology over time. In my opinion, getting too caught up in the technology is a trap; it’s like jumping on a high-speed train, without knowing where you’re headed.
MWW:AUDIO was inspired by the idea that there is a unique story, civic effort, and creative expression behind every public sculpture in Philadelphia—and that an ideal way to tell each story is in the environment and context of city life.