Public Art in Belfast - A Personal Reflection

Eleanor Wheeler notes the benefits of Belfast's improving Public Art

This article appears as part of the Creative Belfast Showcase which took place at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, during February 2006.

The view from the coalface, or rather the brick face, is that Public Art is very much alive and well in Belfast.

Laganside has left an impressive legacy of site specific artwork and most people would be familiar with artwork in our Belfast parks. Belfast City Council along with many other councils and local authorities in Northern Ireland, is now falling over itself to commission public or site specific artworks as part of ongoing urban regeneration schemes and new building projects.

Belfast is a relative newcomer to the adoption of Public Art Schemes, let alone policies, and, whilst art is generally thought of as 'a good thing', (at least within the arts world), there needs to be a critical look at exactly what the role of Public Art is - and a bit of quality control.

It is also important that art is not just seen as some sort of 'bread and circuses' quick fix to distract people from monumental (and / or contentious) building schemes or the lack of genuine engagement.

So what are the benefits - within the context of healthcare, a fair amount of research has been carried out to show that art in hospitals and clinics does genuinely have a positive effect on health.

Equally, there is evidence to show that public art can add value to otherwise derelict and disowned urban spaces, generating development potential.

It is also apparent that public and community arts programmes have a real impact on generating a sense of pride, achievement and in bringing disparate communities together.

As the new kid on the Public Art block, Belfast has a real opportunity to devise creative and quality public art schemes that have a real foundation in community consultation. Of course there also needs to be room made for landmark sculptures that could put the city on the international map and maybe the two are not mutually exclusive.

Eleanor Wheeler