Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Public art, especially work created by local artists, is a creative amenity to add to public spaces to enliven them and reflect the community’s culture.

“Art can bring beauty and hope into public spaces and transform people’s perception.  Moving art out of the museum and making it free to everyone opens up a flow of ideas and a sense of belonging.” Ellen Ryan, program director for creative placemaking, the Trust for Public Land.

Fernandina Beach, FL.  Photo via  Arts and Culture Nassau.

Fernandina Beach, FL. Photo via Arts and Culture Nassau.

Public art creates a vibrant atmosphere that contributes to the quality and cultural identity of a community; enhances the character of community; and supports cultural tourism and economic development.

Adding a touch of art is a great way to create a sense of place in public spaces in your community.  And, placed in public spaces, art is there for everyone.

Photo via City of West Hollywood.
Photo via City of West Hollywood.

Public art, as defined by Americans for the Arts, can take a wide range of forms, sizes, and scales—and can be temporary or permanent. Public art can include murals, sculpture, memorials, integrated architectural or landscape architectural work, community art, digital new media, and even performances and festivals!

Photo via Boston Art Commission.
Photo via Boston Art Commission.

Parks, and other large parcels of open space, are choice venues to display big and bold public art.  The sculpture collection in New York City's Parks constitutes one of the greatest outdoor public art museums in the United States. More than 1,000 monuments, 300 of which are sculptures, grace New York’s most prominent public and civic spaces.

“Placing art in public parks – where visitors from all walks of life can enjoy it freely – is an exciting way to celebrate community culture and create a space that encourages people to linger and interact in a way that is rare in indoor galleries.”     Will Rogers, President, Trust for Public Land.

Photo via New York City Parks.
Photo via New York City Parks.

Take a look at the whimsical and creative art installations in Chicago’s Millennium Park , a state-of-the-art collection of architecture, landscape design and art that is a new kind of town square and  lively, spectacular gathering spot located in the heart of the city.  The Crown Fountain projects video images from a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens, a reference to the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out.

Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

While back at the ranch, thirteen life-size horses gallop through the middle of the Morrison Nature Center in Aurora, CO, a popular nature center in the Denver-Aurora metropolitan area. The horse silhouettes, created by Douwe Blumberg, are constructed of weathering and stainless steel.

The Steel Stampede by Douwe Blumberg.
The Steel Stampede by Douwe Blumberg.

Art along trails and greenways is being used as a creative way of enhancing trail interpretation. It is also being used as an effective tool for telling a trail's story compellingly and memorably.

The four miles of hiking trails that wind through the Brooker Creek Preserve in Pinellas County, FL are enhanced by 15 interpretive trail signs and two sculptures with dimensional elements and interactive components to create a multi-sensory experience for visitors.  One sculpture on the boardwalk at the Preserve, entitled Metamorphosis, is 50 feet of swirling metal and glass with a cluster of spindles that represent native plants, wild animals, and humans.

Metamorphosis in Pinellas County, FL.
Metamorphosis in Pinellas County, FL.

When big, open spaces are limited, especially in urban places, public art takes different forms.  Empty walls have been transformed into huge public murals in many urban communities.  The results can have a lasting effect on local neighborhoods.  Murals can help to enhance neighborhood and community identity, turn ordinary spaces into community landmarks, and promote community dialogue, all while fighting blight and vandalism.

“Murals build a sense of community,” says muralist Grace McCammond. “They make it welcoming and walkable and they make you want to go there.”

In Baltimore, the Baltimore Mural Program helps neighborhoods to become more attractive, instill a sense of pride, combat graffiti in neighborhoods, and engage young people in the beautification of their own communities.

Warner Street, Baltimore, MD.
Warner Street, Baltimore, MD.

In Washington, DC, City Arts creates vibrant public murals and mosaics in Washington, DC and beyond through a collaborative process with community members.  City Arts creates large-scale public artworks with the assistance of talented DC youth. A special effort is made to recruit students who live in the neighborhoods where the artworks will be featured.

Randall Mural in Washington, DC.   Photo via City Arts DC.
Randall Mural in Washington, DC. Photo via City Arts DC.

Realtor® Associations are taking advantage of NAR’s Placemaking Micro-grant to enliven their communities and creating a sense of place with creative placemaking.

The Racine BOR (WI) is using a NAR Placemaking Micro-grant to create and install a three-panel mosaic at the Racine Zoo Beach.

Racine Zoo Beach mural.
Racine Zoo Beach mural.

And the Bronx Manhattan North Association of REALTORS® used the Placemaking Micro-grant to create a community mural adjacent to the new Morrison Avenue Plaza Project. This Plaza will transform underused streets into a vibrant, social public space that promotes community engagement, cultural activities, and economic vibrancy.  See:  Timing is Everything.

Morrison Avenue Mural in the Bronx, NY.
Morrison Avenue Mural in the Bronx, NY.

So, how can a touch of art be used in your community to create a sense of place and engage residents?

See:  Using Art to Create a Sense of Place .


Community Outreach Programs

Housing Opportunity Grant
Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing

Smart Growth Grant
Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The Smart Growth Program offers state and local REALTOR® Associations to way to engage with government officials, community partners and the general public in planning and designing community’s future.

Planned diversity initiatives makes good business sense. REALTOR® Associations with well-planned diversity programs create a stronger sense of community, particularly in neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreign-born and minority residents who are moving up the socioeconomic ladder and are buying homes.

NAR Placemaking Resources

Placemaking Guide: A Guide to Transform a Public Space into a Community Place
REALTORS® and state and local association staff can learn the details of Placemaking, the kinds of projects placemaking entails, how to organize them, and where to go for assistance and resources.

Placemaking Webinar Series
Our Placemaking Webinar Series will provide more in depth information on the various types of Placemaking and how REALTORS® were involved in Placemaking activities in their communities.

Placemaking Grant
The Placemaking Grant funds the creation of new public spaces, like pocket parks, trails & gardens, in a community. The grant focuses on “lighter, cheaper, quicker” placemaking projects, which can be built under a year and cost less  than $200,000.

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