Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of City and Regional Planning


City and Regional Planning


Umut Toker


Public spaces are noted by historians, philosophers, planners, etc as being the lifeblood of civic centers, spaces that bring people in community together for a myriad of reasons. Recalling the ancient Agricola’s of ancient Greece to the modern version of malls and pedestrian plazas, these spaces are where social interactions occur, ideas are spread, and are open for all people to enjoy. Beautifying these spaces with public art and well-thought out design encourage the use of these spaces and work to empower those who use them. While the mode in which public art populates public spaces has changed, the notion that they exist to benefit a public good, act as a civilizer, create character and a distinct environment endures. The idea of public art is unique and is noted for doing something that neither a public space without art nor a museum with art can do: it can capture the eye and mind of individuals passing through public spaces. Making people pay attention to the civic environment around them, creating a sense of “civic vitality” in cities, towns and communities. Public art prompts vital questions about our environment and ourselves, encouraging a broad range of learning opportunities. Public installations of art celebrate culture and the environment, providing connections to history and the natural world. It makes space interesting and different from another. Public artwork is celebrated and condemned for its ability to challenge, delight, educate, and illuminate. Establishing written policies and programs for the arts solidify their place in communities, enacting a set of codes and a process for which artistic endeavors are woven into the complex urban landscape.

The role public art plays in communities is unique in the marrying of two very different sectors of civic life: art and aesthetics with the political planning process. This study examines how political decisions impact the installation process for public artwork in cities. How do written policies and programs support opportunities for installations, ways to empower the community and brighten the streetscape, and where are there gaps in knowledge and information that make the process more convoluted and difficult to navigate? Through studying the public art installation process in the City of San Luis Obispo from the perspective of the administrators working with the public art programs and policies and comparing the process with the ways in which the community is empowered by public art a number of recommendations are made to increase transparency and encourage artistic opportunities in the town with an already robust Public Art Program.