Public art encompasses a wide range of forms including sculptures, murals, shop signs, window displays, public display screens and digital art, paving patterns and street furniture.
Successful public art should relate in some way to the setting in which it is placed, contributing to a sense of place by reinforcing existing themes and character. In this way it will be easily accepted, owned and enjoyed by a wide audience. Public art does not have to be expensive, although it does generally need to be robust to stand up to the weather and public safety should always be considered when selecting the location. It's easy to consumer for people on the street, but there is also a significant halo effect thanks to social media sites such as Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook, where examples of great art and activity can help spread the word of peoples' experiences in your town centre; think of them as a digital equivalent of the Kodak moment.
In Sheffield, art has been incorporated into the public realm throughout the city centre with bespoke benches, water features, a mosaic fountain, and poetry on a high rise building combined with paving and lighting that help to encourage pedestrians to explore more than the core shopping streets. For vehicle borne visitors roundabouts make good locations for public art which can result in directions being given using them as landmarks. Temporary installations can provide additional reasons to choose your town centre for a visit this week rather than a neighbouring town, and employing local artists is good for the local economy.
Some local authorities have a Public Art policy and a good place to start would be to talk to the Cultural Development officer in your local authority.
For further and inspirational reading there are a range of documents and reports on the Arts Council website including ‘Adventures in Regeneration’ which tells the story of how art and culture helped to transform the seaside town of Folkstone.