Public art turns profit? New models for cultural investment

Large-scale public art projects offer unexpected revenue streams and alternative marketing channels.

The Atlantic Cities ran an article in May 2012 on the financial sustainability of public art projects. The piece highlights two major Los Angeles artworks that, apart from enriching the city aesthetically and culturally, also brought tangible monetary gains.

View of the mural at the Wilshire Vermont Station. April Greiman, 'Hand Holding a Bowl of Rice', 2007, video image in oil paint.

View of the mural at the Wilshire Vermont Station. April Greiman, 'Hand Holding a Bowl of Rice', 2007, video image in oil paint.

In an article entitled “The Financial Case for Public Art”, The Atlantic Cities outlined the case that “[d]ollar for dollar, investments in public art may provide the highest financial returns of any funds committed to an aspect of a transit project.”

The piece takes a close look at two recent Los Angeles architectural projects and how their minimal art budgets became the most talked about aspects, providing unexpected economic gains.

Wilshire Vermont Station

The Wilshire Vermont Station is an urban infill residential community built on top of a metro stop in LA’s Koreatown district. The project, which was completed in 2007 by LA-based developer Urban Partners LLC, prominently features a pair of twenty meter-tall murals by environmental artist April Greiman on its main facade.

Though the murals cost only USD75,000 of the USD125 million budget, they were subsequently featured in dozens of newspapers and magazines in Los Angeles and across the US, attracting more publicity than any other aspect of the project.

Since their debut, the city’s mayor has used the murals as a backdrop for many press events and announcements, ingraining them as an icon of Los Angeles’ cultural scene.

For the real estate developers, however, the effect on the bottom line is much more noticeable. As stated in the article, “The private marketing benefits, in real-dollar terms, of this modest public art investment are almost inestimably high.”

View of the Caltrans District 7 Headquaters Replacement Building, Los Angeles. Keith Sonnier, 'Motordom', 2004, neon, argon and aluminum housing.

View of the Caltrans District 7 Headquaters Replacement Building, Los Angeles. Keith Sonnier, 'Motordom', 2004, neon, argon and aluminum housing.

The District 7 headquarters of the California Department of Transportation

The District 7 headquarters of the California Department of Transportation was built in 2004 by architect Thom Mayne and the aforementioned developer Urban Partners LLC.

The designers commissioned artist Keith Sonnier to design the courtyard installation. Sonnier covered the exterior of the building with neon- and argon-filled lights that mimic the appearance of car taillights in motion. The lights also change colours according to a computerised sequence.

The installation provides a colorful addition to the government building and has been hailed as a clever integration of art in architecture. Though the project came with the steep price tag of USD2 million, the popularity and visual appeal of the courtyard attracted the attention of , and the site has since been used in commercials, movies and television shows, providing the government with an ongoing revenue stream from licensing fees. Thus public art, often derided as a frivolous or inefficient allocation of funds, can lead to unexpected profit.

With corporate sponsorship playing an increasingly important role in the Asian contemporary art world, these examples highlight the potential to incorporate art patronage into a group’s larger operations.

Are there already public art installations in Asia that have proved profitable? Let us know in the comments section below.

PR/KN

Related Topics: art and the community, art investment, public art

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