Notions of Value in Public Art
PAD-Sponsored Panel at CAA 2022 (virtual)
A discourse regarding the value of public art may be framed by the Marxian terms use value and exchange value. Use value pertains to the human needs that public art fulfills such as inspiring individual curiosity and wonder, engendering civic engagement and community pride, and fostering a shared cultural heritage. Debates about whether public art’s value lies predominantly within the aesthetic realm or within the realm of social engagement bring other notions of use value to the assessment of public art. Exchange value, being monetarily based, defines public art by the dollar amount it would fetch on the market and contributes to claims of public art’s role in economic revitalization. When the focus on exchange value eclipses public art’s harder-to-define, yet more enriching use value, public audiences suffer. In 2018, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed to sell Kerry James Marshall’s public library mural, Knowledge and Wonder, enticed by the large profit the city could gain from the sale. He only withdrew the mural from auction after others mounted a public campaign that highlighted the long-term use value the mural sustains for everyday users of the library. We seek paper proposals that address the question of how public art connects to various notions of value as they pertain to larger political and social conditions in the United States and internationally. If public art is a sign of society’s investment in creating public value, in what ways can we work to define, explore, and recenter the human use value of public art?