By Michelle Aiello


When we consider memorable places, we think about their icons –The arch of St. Louis, Cloud Gate (also known as “The Bean”) in Chicago, the Eiffel Tower in Paris. All of structures fall under the category of “public art” and were the work of creative individuals who captured the culture, spirit and atmosphere of the places around them. 

Studies have continually shown that public art is instrumental when it comes to creating an attractive, vibrant community. Through their Soul of the Community initiative, The Knight Foundation surveyed 43,000 people across 43 cities and found that “social offerings, openness and welcome-ness,” and, significantly, the ‘aesthetics of a place – its art, parks and green spaces,’ ranked higher than education, safety and the local economy as a ‘driver of attachment.’” Another survey of Philadelphia residents found that viewing public art was the second most popular activity in the city, ranking higher than biking and hiking.

By its very nature, public art is fundamentally different from its private counterpart. Public art is not just for the wealthy or those inclined to visit museums and art galleries. Compared to prestigious gallery shows, public art, much like landscape architecture or park design, is often under appreciated. But there’s a lot to like: It’s free. There are no tickets. There is no dress code. You can view it alone or in groups, any time you want. It’s open to all.

Nan Plummer, President and CEO of LexArts, has a similar view. Each year, she and her team raise money for the arts and re-grant to many arts organizations in Central Kentucky. LexArts also serves as our city’s local arts council, providing technical assistance, subsidized office and creative space, and marketing exposure for the arts community –which includes the facilitation of public art projects.

“Our aim is ‘arts everywhere’—and while we have lots more places and people to reach, we’re excited to see the expansion in quantity, quality and diversity of the arts in Central Kentucky,” she said.

“The big organizations are always trying new things, and there are more small organizations and projects every year. We’re able to do this because of terrific support from the City of Lexington and especially from everyday people who support our Fund for the Arts Campaign.”

When asked how public art benefits the community in her view, Plummer said, “It creates an environment of visual interest and fun. It also creates a sense of place and of pride in that place. It draws tourists, and it rallies neighborhoods.” 

LexArts Community Director Nathan Zamarron added, “Public art reaches everyone, in unexpected ways, in unexpected places, brightening our day and making it more interesting.  Lexington has become place known nationally as a destination for horses, bourbon and increasingly for public art.” He also mentioned that in the ten years he has been with LexArts, they have seen many new arts organizations established and flourishing, an increase in requests for and appreciation of public art and innovative collaboration between artists, organizations and the city. From the Horsemania project of 2000 and 2010 to citywide mural projects, there is always something creative in the works. 

So what can we expect in the future? “LexArts will be part of several major citywide initiatives including Town Branch Commons and Town Branch Park, which will be great opportunities for public art to be integrated in the landscape of downtown Lexington,” said Zamarron. “Plus, the renovation of Southland Drive sidewalks will include a temporary sculpture exhibit and commission of a permanent site-specific work that enhances Southland as Lexington’s Music Row.” Plummer added that there will soon be a permanent installation of the Unlearn Fear + Hate project (conceived by Transylvania professors and artists Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova) on Short Street. 

Those wishing to support public arts can do so in a variety of ways. Making a contribution to the LexArts Fund for the Arts Campaign supports over 50 arts and cultural organizations in Central Kentucky. Institutions can contract with LexArts to coordinate large-scale purchase and commission of original site-specific work. And of course, buying art from local artists and galleries is always a great way to show support.