Why Public Art Matters (and what you can do to get more of it)

Evelyn Henson Confetti Hearts Wall


I wanted to take a moment to talk more about the importance of public art today. I have been getting a lot of messages regarding murals and how to increase the number in your respective communities. I find this question difficult to address because we live in a world that doesn't value art enough. In my experience, people often expect me to work for free and are quick to steal my work (print it off for personal display, use it for their marketing graphics, or, in worst case scenarios, resell it on their own product). To me, this communicates that our society often overlooks the artist's time spent on both individual projects and the LIFETIME they've poured into developing their craft. Art's a light that stays on forever; that's something worth investing in. 

Because not everyone sees this, I want to address art's value first, specifically in the realm of public spaces. I've outlined 3 major reasons public art matters below. I hope you're able to take this and open up a conversation in your area. 



1. Art is economically viable in that it enhances a city's identity and diversifies its cultural attractions. Especially in the era of social media, murals have become destinations where both tourists and locals can celebrate and mark their visit.

  • Murals enhance a city's portfolio of tourist attractions. It's pretty simple: people go places to see things and if there isn't anything to see, people aren't going to be inspired go. This study by Schofields shows that 40% of those under 33 are selecting their next trip based on "instragrammablity." If instagram is what inspires a travelers next destination, cities need to consider what will make them more attractive on social media. The more public art there is in a community, the more marketable a city becomes to travelers. Not every city can have an Eiffel Tower or Golden Gate Bridge, but murals can serve as similarly compelling attractions--especially when there's a myriad of them.  
  • Locally, public art positively impacts the amount of foot traffic for surrounding local businesses. I'm going to do some ROUGH MATH here just to exemplify the amount of potential murals have in terms of impacting revenue for surrounding businesses:
    • The mural I painted brought in close to 600 hashtag shares in the first 6 weeks; that's 100 shares per week or about 14 a day. That's over 5k+ shares per year (and keep in mind that this number is just hashtag shares; it doesn't include the number of people who aren't posting a photo or using the hashtag). These 5,000 people visit for one of two reasons: fun/personal enjoyment OR for something business related. In either scenario, both groups typically also take the time to visit a nearby business when they're there; they get brunch at a nearby restaurant, grab a cup of coffee, or shop at a nearby boutique. If each of these 5,000 people who posted spends $10, that means a mural has the potential to create $50,000+ in revenue for surrounding businesses per year and $1,000,000 every 20 years. Additionally, the latter group (there for work) is able to elevate their own business as a result: photographers have more background opportunities for clients (arguably creating more customers in the process) and both fashion bloggers and other small businesses can be more creative and thus more profitable when styling and promoting their product. 

2. Art positively impacts mood. Studies consistently show that art drastically improves our mental health & overall well being. This includes active exposure (like painting or singing) and passive exposure (like visiting a mural). In other words, "people who enjoy looking at art get the exact same health benefits as people who enjoy making art" (Park West Gallery). 

    • Creativity cultivates more happiness. As exemplified in this study, there is a direct correlation between everyday creativity and happiness. Because art releases pleasure-related neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine, engaging with art is a mood-enhancing experience. Not everyone has time to pick up a paintbrush everyday. However, when we put murals in the community, we create opportunities for people to unlock their creativity and therefore become happier. Just walking by and looking at art creates the same effect as visiting an art gallery, and if the passerby stops to take a photo, they're able to take on the role of photographer for that moment. Both of these moments add to our joy. 
    • Art can distract from depression. Creativity and depression are often argued to be linked, so the question then becomes how do we keep people from falling into depression?  This study argues that the answer is more art. Creative endeavors offer an escape, a distraction, that allows us to stop ruminating on the bad and shift towards more positive thinking. Putting art in public spaces acts as a vehicle for this shift (Note: I do not think art alone can cure depression, but this shows that it can be an instrumental tool in combatting it). Negative emotions, even if only for a few minutes, are replaced with positive ones. 
    • Art reduces stress by literally forcing us to slow down and breath. This study tracked how quickly people walked before and after art was put into a space and the findings reflected that walking speeds were cut in half. That's a powerful thing in today's fast paced society. "This simple experiment and its convincing result shows the great power of public art to influence how we move, think and feel in city environments...We may sometimes feel that installations of public art are nothing more than aesthetic baubles.  But this...[shows] that good installations can reach inside our minds and exert profound effects on our behavior. Public art can be a powerful tool for building better cities" (Colin Ellard). 

3. Art creates a sense of social connectivity that helps us better understand and appreciate each other. By serving as an experience that we share together, murals creates common ground in a world that's becoming increasingly divisive and isolated. "There is no discipline...that breaks barriers, connects across cultural differences, and engages our shared values more than arts and culture. There is no investment that connects us to each other, moves us to action, and strengthens our ability to make collective choices more than arts and culture" (Stanford Review). With the confetti hearts mural, I found a beautiful example of this here. In the images, photographer Amanda Moss shares that, after a client photography session, other pedestrians and nearby workers jumped in front of the wall for photos. In those moments, the mural united different groups of people. Art brings us together.  



I honestly don't know the best answer to this yet. I was approached by a real estate investment company that already sees the value of art and was looking to put more of it in the Charlotte community. Below are my thoughts though--

1. Share some of the facts above with: 

  • Any businesses (boutiques, restaurants, etc.) who rent property and/or directly to the landlords/companies who own the buildings. 
  • Influencers, magazines, and other publications who have audiences that might reach those who own property. 

2. Visit and share the murals already existing in your area. If there's a hashtag, USE IT because it's a tangible number that shows how much people value art. And tag the artist if you can too because the encouragement might inspire them to chase another ;) 



Sending all the confetti hearts your way! XX