Public Art and the Economic Downturn

Public art has clearly benefited from public and private sector investment in regeneration initiatives over recent years. On 30th January 2009, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published The Credit Crunch and Regeneration: Impact and Implications by Professor Michael Parkinson, from the European Institute for Urban Affairs at Liverpool John Moores University. His report asserts that the current economic crisis is impacting on a financial model that has underpinned regeneration in recent years and pressure on the sector is likely to get more intense. Consequently, the immediate scenario for the public art sector is fewer regeneration initiatives leading to fewer opportunities for public art.

ixia believes that major public sector regeneration agencies will potentially become key drivers for the public art sector as the Government encourages them to stimulate the economy by releasing the funding and land they hold. Parkinson’s report contains nothing to deflect us from that view. However, the public art sector will only be able to seize these opportunities if appropriate policies and plans are in place, and the skills and capacity are available to see they are implemented. This will require vision and adaptability to new circumstances. However, we know that many of the public sector organisations involved in regeneration have neither in place, and those that do may find their capacity to implement diminished if cost-cutting occurs.

Government initiatives will undoubtedly place emphasis on improving the UK’s long-term competitive advantage in the global market. Unfortunately, we cannot assume that public art will be seen to be of economic, social or environmental value, or even artistic value, in this context.

Whilst Parkinson does not propose actions, he does identify some clear principles that he feels are simple and obvious, and we feel they apply equally to public art:

  • Pursue long-term principles and goals;
  • Provide brave leadership;
  • Maintain commitment to the regeneration agenda;
  • Deliver quality products in future;
  • Provide financial innovation;
  • Work even more in partnership;
  • Retain capacity;
  • Prepare for the upturn; and
  • Provide public resources and programmes.

The two immediate challenges which therefore remain for the sector are: demonstrating that public art can deliver outcomes that are relevant, and of value to, a wide range of stakeholders; and that the necessary plans and policies are in place to ensure that public art is clearly embedded in the processes that determine regeneration initiatives.