Public domain: works of art

With news that Dubai Metro stations will be transformed into art museums, Vision explores the importance of making art accessible to all

Publicly accessible art and sculpture have always played a vital part in promoting a city or nation’s cultural status and ambitions. From the monolithic moai of Easter Island, to the monuments of the Forum in ancient Rome, art has been used as a way to communicate with and inspire a population. Today, presenting art in public places can help to reach out to audiences who would seldom choose to venture into the white-walled domain of a museum or gallery.

A recent initiative launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, aims to widen the appeal and accessibility of art in Dubai by transforming several Dubai Metro stations into public art museums. The first phase will see four key stations become museums for Islamic Arts and Arabic Calligraphy, Inventions, Contemporary Art and Visual Art, with exterior and interior designs reflecting these themes and state-of-the-art technology encouraging visitors to interact with the artworks.

"We want creativity to reach every individual in the society," explained HH Sheikh Mohammed. "We want to inspire and communicate with every employee on his way to work, every student on his way to pursuing education and every tourist visiting Dubai." The project’s scheduled completion in March 2015 will coincide with the next edition of the Art Dubai contemporary art fair, providing an opportunity to promote Dubai’s cultural credentials to international visitors as well as residents.

Dubai’s initiative is reminiscent of a public art programme implemented throughout more than 90 metro stations in the Swedish capital, Stockholm. First introduced in the 1950s, the scale of the interventions ranges from sculptures on the platforms to entire stations that are painted or covered in decorative tiles. As well as offering passengers access to free public art as they travel across town, the artworks make it easier to navigate the network and help to make the stations safer and less prone to vandalism.

Other popular public art projects, such as Anish Kapoor’s shiny Cloud Gate sculpture at Chicago’s AT&T Plaza which has been affectionately dubbed ‘The Bean’ by locals, demonstrate that art placed in appropriate locations can become a valued part of daily life.

In London, the dedication of the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square as a site for temporary installations has allowed the public to enjoy works by artists including Marc Quinn and Antony Gormley in one of the city’s most high-profile locations. By bringing art to the people, these initiatives endeavour to inspire creativity and an appreciation of art that extends beyond the gallery-going cognoscenti.