Whether walking along a city sidewalk, biking by a country trail, or driving on a highway, travelers are increasingly likely to see artwork that reflects local culture. Art can help generate a sense of place, engage communities, and support economic development. Transportation agencies and arts organizations are partnering to make it happen.
The challenges are many when bringing the engineering-based world of transportation together with the subjective, aesthetics-based world of art. For example, a project in Edmonds, Washington that transformed an otherwise bland commuter corridor into a cultural and colorful gateway into the business district was seven years in the making. In the end, artist Pam Beyette’s persistence paid off in a highly visible, meaningful project.
Another challenge is finding ways to finance an ambitious project without putting it at risk of being cut or delayed. In addition, some transportation infrastructure projects have unique requirements, such as the need to be highly durable. Adding art to this kind of infrastructure can add cost.
But the benefits can outweigh the costs, experts say. Beautiful street furniture, trails, and highways attract more people and are more appealing than ugly ones. And a growing body of research shows that art in transit creates "postcard moments" that people remember, increasing ridership and supporting wayfinding and local branding.
In terms of building political support, experts say that establishing champions within State and local DOTs is critical. They can help get others on board, and then spread the word through their networks. And it’s important to remind stakeholders that art is not a Band-Aid, but an effective way to enhance a project and improve the public experience of transportation infrastructure.