There is no collective record of public art in the United States. It is no easy nor small feat to 1) document each piece of public art and 2) label what is actually public art. I am inspired by the work of CultureNow and their initiative, Museums Without Walls, which maps art, architecture and history found outside of the museum. Here, is a write-up from my digital scholarship class in which I looked at Singapore's Public Art Open Database, an interesting model.
Is it public?
Yes, the website is about public art. It is an open database and a public resource. The administrators of the site describe it as a "shared record," and say, "we're offering you the chance to pass comments, make judgements, express opinions and help build a communal record of the changing urban environment in Singapore." Additionally, the implementation of twitter feeds and an opinion section allow the public to engage with the website and make their interactions with the website and its content, and their opinions public knowledge.
Is it digital?
Yes, they established an online database with text, image, and userfeed about public art. It is not merely a map or a public art booklet or brochure. It is updated, and constantly changing. It links you to artwork that you might not see from your couch in Providence. It creates dialogue about artwork and public art issues between people from across the world.
Is it scholarship?
The website is a record. It is not blatantly academic since it is an open database in which anyone can add his/her own comment, description, or picture of a public artwork. It is a similar argument as wikipedia; is open source scholarship? But, the website is a useful resource for the general interested public as well as public art / contemporary art scholars. The open database system is a well thought out way to present a wide-ranging and open ended topic. Though, I have to argue that it has the capacity to verge more towards the scholarship side. It can present articles comparing the pieces of artwork, or the trends in the public art world in Singapore, and in the global community as well. It could have memos and articles from the public art program members or the public artists. It could also link to websites that educate about public art, Singapore, contemporary sculpture, etc..
General Observations and Thoughts:
I appreciate that this website has its mission and purpose clearly defined on the welcome page. It is short, concise, and has links that lead me to where I might want to go to learn more. There is a photograph of public art, which is valuable seeing as how most people going to this site are visually inclined.
I think the audience for this website is Singaporians interested in their public art, as well as public art scholars, practioners, and enthusiasts from around the world.
There is an effort to create databases for public art since it is a relatively new field, and there are not many websites like Singapore's open database. I recently sat in on a "Web Resources for Public Art" discussion in NYC with public art administrators and creators from across the country, and the general consensus is that there must be proper resources available online about public art. This means uploading collections, creating maps of public art sites, creating resources to educate the pubic about process, policy, and creation, and in general, marketing and advertising the existence of public art in our surroundings - generating interest. This website is one of the predecessors, and though it is not perfect (open source has its faults), it is a valiant effort and educational resource. If interested, Culture Now in NYC has created a wonderful initiative called "Museums Without Walls," which strives to collect and document and promote art, architecture, and history found outside of the museum.
I like the twitter newsfeed and the Recent Activity box on the Open Database. It speaks to the dynamics and evolving nature of the website's subject. Public art is a contentious subject that is usually rife with controversy so I appreciate the venues through which you can gain other peoples’ insight and opinions. And, it is educational and universal. It links to other public art topics outside of Singapore as evidenced by the Danish post of security in the Twitter Feed. The opinion box promotes conversation; people ask questions, and others give answers. An example is found here. Most of public art scholarship right now is dialogue, and this venue is fitting for the subject.
The organization of the website is also clear. It lists the artworks chronologically, and if you click on the title of a work, it brings you to a bio page of the artwork. This is an important link. The website promotes the artists, and allows the viewer to learn more. I suggest that if the artists has a twitter or facebook account that they should share the link so that the viewer can engage with the artist. Most patronage or support today can be "idea-centric" rather than "geographic-centric" so it is important to promote exposure for the artist, and hopefully future patronage. Though, simply, there is a comment section on the artwork and artist's page so this does allow communication.
There is also a googlemap so you can locate the artwork. This is GREAT because it serves as an online collection and brochure. One of the problems that public art faces is how to convey to people the wealth of art works in a city/state. But, the photographs are static. It would be interesting to have a googleearth view where you can do a 360 around the work and see its environment.
There is a list of removed artworks which is a relevant issue in public art. Controversies around public art arise and sometimes work has to be taken down. It is critical to document these situations. The documentation of removed works also exemplifies the depth of the database.
One thing I appreciate about Singapore's public art open database is its "homework" list. We talked in class about how organizations have limited time and resources so they can not upload/show everything on their website. The open database solves this situation; it found out how to tell its viewers what it cannot show, and what will be coming in the near future. The "homework" list has the works of art that the administrators know about but haven't yet been able to add to the database. You can find that list here.
You can participate by registering. You can add info about a piece of work, upload a photo, etc. I find the open database interesting in a country that is so closely sensored. Perhaps because they have such strict regulations then they do not need a history page like wikipedia, and do not have to worry about vandalism and inappropriate content on the site.
A bit about structure...
The website is well organized. The following are the different tabs on the main page.
2. Favorites (list of favorite and least favorite, with a 10-star system)
3. Artworks: Map -- They have connected to a variety of viewers. Some learn visually, some are more inclined to words and lists. So, the website has organized its works by date and by map.
4. Most Viewed (On the website) -- This has a wonderful interactive element. The viewer can learn about what others on the site are doing. It personalizes the experience, as well as establishes a community.
7. Temporary Works: Documenting temporary art is a timely topic.
8. Further Reading: Gives the viewer the opportunity to learn more, and links to important Singapore websites.
9. About: Allows the viewer to learn more about the website creators and their mission and background. Here there is transparency.