What does art bring to a development?

Public art has increasingly proved be an effective way of raising a development's profile and gaining publicity for real estate.

February 19, 2016

From Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture at London’s Olympic Park to the dancing fountains of the Burj Khalifa Lake in Dubai, to the concrete cows of Milton Keynes, public art has proved to be an effective way of raising a development’s profile.

But art isn’t just about getting publicity for real estate. Well-chosen public art is increasingly becoming a crucial part of place making – the combination of desirability and atmosphere that makes a development somewhere people genuinely want to go, stay and spend.

“Public art can be part of the reason people feel somewhere is a nice place to visit,” says Katie Kopec, Development Consulting Director at JLL. “It can help increase footfall, repeat visits and longevity – and anything that has an impact on these things has an impact on security of value.”

Art often appears in the spaces between buildings – the streets and public areas – and increasingly these are as important as the buildings themselves.

“I think there’s a whole new movement around the management of those spaces,” says Katie. “Creativity is a key part of place making and public art is part of that.”

However, not every development is suitable for public art. As well as thinking about whether the setting is right, there are costs to consider; art can come with a high price tag.

There can also be longer-term costs. Art needs to be maintained. And restructuring or remodeling can be more costly if you need to protect an installation.

Attracting investors

While art can be an important ingredient in making a development interesting, it can also add value, especially for private investors, says Caroline Dehe, Associate Director, JLL. “Any work of art that adds to the emotional uniqueness of a building will be a key differentiator. While art may be seen as a ‘nice to have’ for the more financially orientated, cashflow-driven investors like private equity firms, if you think of sell-on value any building that has a differentiator will be a plus.”

Having a piece by a big-name artist can enhance a developers’ brand or a building’s reputation. However, it’s not always necessary – or desirable.

“Using local people who understand the context and the environment in which the art is going to sit is often better. It’s also a good way of connecting the local community with the new development,” says Kopec.

Nor can developers and artists expect every piece of public art to be universally loved. Sculptures such as Meeting Place at St Pancras International have divided opinion. However, mild controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can sometimes increase footfall.

Thinking about art from the start

Public art works well when it’s factored in from the beginning of a development and is integral to it, rather than added on later. London’s Canary Wharf is a good example of a place that embedded art into its design from its inception.

And art is only one ingredient in creating a successful development. People might visit a piece by a major artist from time to time, but if the rest of the place isn’t attractive it won’t make them return or stay longer.

“A piece of art in the middle of a hostile environment isn’t going to change that environment,” says Kopec. “It’s got to be created in a way that’s sympathetic with the development as a whole.”