FAQ

Have you ever stopped to contemplate the majestic Gateway Arch, whose sleek metallic surface seduces our gaze, and wondered just how and why it’s there? Have you seen it from several directions, from the St. Louis riverfront, from across the river or even when crossing the Eads bridge, and noticed how its appearance seems to change? Have you tried to count the colors it reflects at night or wondered what the people of St. Louis thought of this modern design back in 1948 when they first saw it? Have you considered how a piece of public art such as the Arch helps to define a public space? A community? This St. Louis monument was designed by Eero Saarinen to commemorate westward expansion—a gateway to the west.

While the Gateway Arch is the most prominent example of public art in the area, there are a wide variety of examples throughout the St. Louis region. In the following pages, we invite you to explore St. Louis through its public art. From traditional bronze monuments to 21st-century light installations to art that alters the landscape, artists’ visions have shaped the way in which we see and experience our neighborhoods. What does each of these pieces say about its surroundings? What do all of them together say about St. Louis? Before we take a closer look at public art in our community, lets explore the topic.

What do we mean when we speak of "Public Art"?

Is there a particular form it must take or special materials that are used?

Does a piece of "public art" mean that the public played a part in its design or selection?

How does a successful public art selection profess work?

Is the funding from public sources?

Who takes care of the art?

When did public art get started?

When did public art get started in the United States?

When did public art get started in St. Louis?

What are the qualities of a successful piece of public art?

 

what do we mean when we speak of "public art"?

Essentially, it is a work of art or a monument that is easily accessible to the general public. Most often it is out of doors, public murals being the most common exception.

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is there a particular form it must take or special materials that are used?

All styles and materials can be found—from highly realistic imagery to abstract forms to pieces based on time and made from materials as diverse as bronze and marble to lights and carefully formed earth. Some works are site-specific, that is designed specifically for a particular location, and others have been placed in the out-of-doors in gardens or park settings.

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does a piece of "public art" mean that the public played a part in its design or selection?

Many communities have art commissions or boards that are involved in the selection process. Some consult individuals and groups in the community in the selection process, most often with the goal being to fund the highest quality art.

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how does a successful public art selection profess work?

While every community that engages in a public art process develops its own set of criteria, there are certain basic considerations that well-prepared plans hold in common. A successful selections process: 1) is sensitive to community history, assets, issues and aspirations; 2) is community- and site-oriented, i.e. has internal qualities that allow the work to unify, surprise, question, express, engage, elevate, describe and identify a place; 3) develops in an open, informed atmosphere, in order that expectations and goals are clear and shared; 4) articulates and extends the values and vision of a community and is designed for a diverse audience; 5) allows for artistic creativity and innovation with the added resources of community input, local character and materials.

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is the funding from public sources?

Most often not. Usually individuals, corporations and philanthropic agencies work together to raise the necessary funds.

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who takes care of the art?

Again, it varies according to a variety of factors such as agreements with the artist at the time of purchase or provisions in cities with municipal guidelines. Deterioration caused by exposure to the weather is frequently an issue, and occasionally so is vandalism.

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when did public art get started?

Beginning in ancient times, societies and cultures throughout the world constructed monuments to mark or commemorate important ideas, beliefs, people, and events. Sometimes these objects took the form of a soaring column or a triumphal arch;
at other times, a colossal figure or an elaborate mosaic was the expressive form.
In each instance, the artifact marked the connection of a people to a place's identifying, signifying, and resonating their histories.

The first mention of monuments is found in the 2nd-century BC writings of Greek historian Pliny the Elder, who wrote of the magnificent monuments he saw in his travels. Though the term "public art" had not yet emerged, these objects and monuments are its antecedents. It is through such encounters that we come to know, appreciate and remember places, people and history.

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when did public art get started in the united states?

During the 18th, 19th and the first half of the 20th century, the predominate form of public art in the United States portrayed heroes on pedestals. Cast bronze or carved stone figures dotted park landscapes or loomed high above the heads of visitors in and around courthouses and other government buildings. The mural is another form of public art common in America during the past several centuries. Such tableaux depict historical events or illustrate ancient myths, and are often located in national, state or local government facilities such as post offices, state capitols and public schools.
The scenes are produced in fresco, painted on canvas, carved in stone, cast in ceramics or fashioned with mosaic tiles.

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when did public art get started in st. louis?

During the 18th, 19th and the first half of the 20th century, the predominate form of public art in the United States portrayed heroes on pedestals. Cast bronze or carved stone figures dotted park landscapes or loomed high above the heads of visitors in and around courthouses and other government buildings. The mural is another form of public art common in America during the past several centuries. Such tableaux depict historical events or illustrate ancient myths, and are often located in national, state or local government facilities such as post offices, state capitols and public schools.
The scenes are produced in fresco, painted on canvas, carved in stone, cast in ceramics or fashioned with mosaic tiles.

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what are the qualities of a successful piece of public art?

This is an important question and one that we, as thoughtful viewers, must consider. Simply put, the best public art has qualities that engage the viewer in ways that may cause surprise, raise questions, express feelings, stimulate the intellect, elevate the soul, and help to describe or identify an experience or an event.