Don’t Look Back: The Challenges of Public Art and Meanings of Authenticity in Heritage Contexts

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    Public art commissions often recognize the need for a local community to catalyze their identity, but, as Miwon Kwon and others have written, this can lead to an essentialized version of identity. Through the expansion of public art commissioning, the value of the artist’s role in placemaking is now widely accepted, but this comes with an increased demand for artists to respond to a brief while trying, as David Cotterell says, to “construct art work and projects of an uncompromised nature.” However, in the case of heritage projects, artists also meet with expected representations of heritage. As part of The Ring, a larger program of canal heritage–related commissions funded by the Canal & River Trust, I developed and produced a public art project titled Saltways. The project brought to the fore the contested nature of the use of art in heritage projects. This paper will discuss the challenges for the artist negotiating the line between compromising the integrity of the artistic idea, while meeting the community’s need to feel their heritage is represented, and how a failure of authenticity of one kind might lead to another kind of authenticity.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)161-183
    JournalPublic Art Dialogue
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2020


    • Public art
    • Heritage
    • Authenticity


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