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Why Art in Parks?

Topics: Building Communities,Participation and Learning | Comments

Why Art in Parks?

Art is the expression of human creativity and imagination, producing works to be enjoyed, appreciated and even challenge thinking. Public art is art that is conceived and designed largely to be in an outdoor area, accessible and appreciable by all. One place such public art is regularly found is parks. Art, in many forms, can be found in parks across Australia around the world.

Why is art a potential vital element in a park? Ultimately the partnership brings together two valuable elements for humanity to be appreciated and enjoyed. But beyond this, the location of art in parks can bring people to parks who wouldn’t normally or regularly visit – and it can connect people to art who wouldn’t normally have access to it.

Bringing people to parks is a key motivator for including art, especially in attracting those who might not otherwise come to the park. Parks deliver opportunities for physical and mental wellbeing, through physical activity, connection to the natural environment and even connection to the community.

Connecting people to art is valuable as it can help educate, open minds and provide inspiration. Art in a park environment is without the trappings of art in a museum or gallery. It’s eminently accessible, free and without pretense and barriers.

Traditional art in parks

The oldest form of public art in parks is monuments and memorials. These works often mark public giving and sacrifice, whether it be memorialising a distinguished person or the efforts of thousands of service people.  One of the most famous park-based monuments is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, which chronologically lists the names of more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives in service to their country. The wall is located in a park as so is accessible 24 hours a day. In Australia, the Thousand Steps walk in Victoria incorporates a memorial to those who lost their lives on the Kokoda Trail in WWII. There are thousands of examples globally. They provide an opportunity to appreciate both a work of art and acts of human courage in an accessible park environment.

Sculpture is another common form of public art, its nature lending itself to surviving the elements. The Sculpture Walk at Werribee Park in Victoria, Australia winds through the farm and riverine areas and features a collection of works by Australia’s leading sculptors and award winners. Temporary sculpture exhibitions, like Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi in Sydney, also drive park visitation and encourage physical activity due to the sculptures being spread along a walk.

The oldest form of art, rock paintings, can also be found in parks. Murujuga National Park is 100th national park declared in Western Australia. It hosts the largest concentration of rock art in the world. The rock art not only tells the story of human habitation, dating back to when the land was some 100 kilometres inland from the sea, but it also records the lore for Aboriginal people to the north western tip of Australia, south past Carnarvon and east as far as Alice Springs. Therefore the rock art has deep meaning for the local Aboriginal people. The rock art itself is a record of the sea levels rising over time, depicting extinct land animals and then sea animals as the local Aboriginal population adapted to the changing land.[i]

Art installations in parks

Public art in parks can include permanent and impermanent installations.

One of the most famous and ambitious temporary art installations in a park was The Gates in New York’s Central Park.  Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude installed 7,503 vinyl “gates” along 37km of pathways in Central Park for two weeks in February 2005. The artists explained: “Our works are temporary in order to endow the works of art with a feeling of urgency to be seen, and the love and tenderness brought by the fact that they will not last. Those feelings are usually reserved for other temporary things such as childhood and our own life.”[ii]

Beyond the artistic value, The Gates had far reaching effects for the city and the park. Their estimated economic impact was $254 million for the city. Visits to Central Park reached over 4 million during The Gates - a substantial increase from the approximately 750,000 visits the Park receives during the same two week period in a typical February. The NYC Economic Development Corporation estimated that more than 1.5 million visitors for The Gates were from out of town - an estimated 300,000 of those were international visitors.[iii]

More permanent efforts to include modern art is parks is also developing. Art in the Parks in San Francisco is a cooperative effort of the National Park Service, the Presidio Trust, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Headlands Center for the Arts. They work with a variety of community partners to bring the arts to park settings to provide new ways of experiencing and learning about place. Through Art in the Parks, both emerging and established artists have been invited to collaborate with the parks to create place-based artworks that illuminate the Golden Gate National Parks’ natural and historical landscapes and stories in innovative and unexpected ways.[iv]

Also in the US, an ambitious art and park project is The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres. It presents art projects, exhibitions and discussions designed to strengthen the public’s understanding of the unique, reciprocal relationships between contemporary art and the natural world.

100 Acres also became a new recreational space within the city in which people can engage creatively with the natural environment. While the site had formerly been open to the public, it was only used by a small number of hikers and fishers. According to news articles and internal reports, the Park’s popularity with the public has exceeded expectations. It increased attendance at the Museum itself by 67% in the summer months in the first year it opened.

Re-imagining parks through art and community involvement

The concept of what can be a park – and how it can incorporate art – is also being reimagined around the world. The High Line in New York City, Promenade Plantee in Paris and Gleisdreieck  Park in Berlin are three such examples, taking disused urban ‘blights’ and turning them into artistic parklands.

The 2.3km High Line Park converted an out-of-use railroad trestle to a public landscape over more than two years of construction per section. The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. The species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation, with a focus on native species.

To add to the park visitation experience, High Line Art commissions and produces public art projects on and around the High Line.

Creating art in parks

Parks and outdoor environments are also being used as places to create, and foster a love of, art.

ArtPlay in Melbourne, Australia is a specially designed centre where children, primary school groups and families can be creative alongside professional artists and play in an exciting outdoor space. It is also the only playground in Melbourne’s CBD, with slides, sand pits, swinging hammocks, activity panels, rock and rope climbing features and balance beams.[v]

Co-Design, an Australian architectural firm, has built a social enterprise with a focus on improving public spaces through community collaboration – working with local communities to improve on their open spaces. Such programs often include creation of art by children and others in the local community.

Arts precincts can also be fostered in parks. GasWorks Park in Melbourne, Australia aims to create a vibrant arts precinct which contributes to a healthy and resilient local community and engages visitors from across the State. Its mission is to enliven a public park through the creation of a thriving arts program.[vi]

Art in parks contributes to a healthy community

A definition of healthy people goes beyond mere physical health. Mental health is vital and art has a key role to play in people living fully developed lives. Placing art in parks contributes to both physical and mental well-being, whilst also hopefully delivering a greater appreciation of, and connection to, the environment. Thus incorporating art into parks in some forms helps deliver healthy parks and healthy people.









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