Public Art, For Whose Sake?
As other Canadian provinces and countries, Quebec has a policy to integrate art to governmental and public buildings and sites such as schools, libraries, hospitals and parks. This policy is also known as the 1% program because it consists in allocating 1% or more of the construction budget to the commission of works of art, indoor or outdoor. While the government promotes public art in the community, a number of issues arise given that its official policy aims: 1) at the affirmation of a cultural identity in Quebec; 2) to stimulate artistic development; 3) and further the access and participation of citizens to cultural life. These three objectives call for a close examination of the conditions of production and reception of such art. A critical analysis reveals the structures of social power involved, shifting our interest away from the aesthetics of the works towards social context, ideologies, and politics. What is meant by “ cultural identity ” and are the works to be considered “ social products and expressions of cultures and ideologies, ” as Eric Fernie puts it? Does the selection committee (comprising the architect, a specialist in visual arts, and a representative from the Ministry of Culture) limit or truly “stimulate artistic development ” ? Is the art in governmental and public buildings and parks really accessible to the public and does it encourage participation in cultural life? What is its impact on the community? Finally, since the artists have to adapt to the realities and limitations of the 1% program, should they also adapt to a wider audience that is not necessarily informed on art? Do artists making public art have a responsibility to the community and should public art be different from gallery and museum art? Does public art have a social function, by necessity that museum or gallery art does not?
Claude Lacroix is Associate Professor of Art History at Bishop ’ s University (Sherbrooke). He is currently researching on government sponsored public art in Quebec and is the author of “L’intégration des arts à l’architecture et à l’environnement dans les Cantons-de-l’Est” in the Journal of Eastern Townships , No 28, Lennoxville: Eastern Townships Research Center, 2006 (59-76). Earlier publications include “ L ’ expérience du musée virtuel ” , in Hypertextes. Espaces virtuels de lecture et d ’ écriture , edited by Christian Vandendorpe et Denis Bachand, Québec: Éditions Nota bene, 2002 (249-266) ; “ L ’ oeuvre d ’ art. Du musée au site Web ” , www.chairemetal.com (2001); “ Nomadic Identity. Of Memory and Fiction ” , in CHANTAL DAHAN. The Dahan Bunch. Perdus dans l ' espace , Ottawa: Ottawa Art Gallery, 2001, (15-18, 29-32); “ Art Museum Websites: The Lure of Museums Without Walls ” , CIHA: Thirtieth International Congress of the History of Art, London (G-B) 2000, ( http://www.unites.uqam.ca/AHWA) (2000). He completed his Ph.D. at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.