A work of art can do many things: bring people together, reinforce shared identities, add to a sense of well-being, and connect a community with its urban spaces. The power of art, public art in particular, to nurture and heal has also been amplified during the pandemic, when some people and communities have found themselves isolated.
Many landlords are recognizing their role in placemaking and helping to meld space, art, and people to imbue the built environment with culture and heritage. Stakeholders stress that art’s value cannot simply be measured in financial terms, such as by project budgets and returns on investment.
These were some of the views of panelists who spoke at a roundtable discussion at the 2021 ULI Singapore Annual Conference, held both virtually and in person in early March.
“I would say that [people do] view art as an important and vital part of society; it helps us to celebrate, it helps us to commemorate, it helps us to remember,” said panelist David Calkins, regional managing principal, Asia Pacific and Middle East, for Gensler. He added, “[public] art makes the experience of public places better: it can intensify that experience and it can make it more meaningful.”
Fellow panelist Chong Siak Ching, chief executive officer of Singapore’s National Gallery, cited the National Art Council of Singapore’s Population Survey of the Arts 2019, released last year, which showed a majority of respondents share a belief in art and its positive impact on people’s lives. Between 75 and 90 percent said the arts promote better understanding of different cultures and backgrounds, improve quality of life, and bring people closer as a community.
“[This shows that] Singaporeans see the importance of art in bringing us together as a people,” she said. “The survey also showed that accessibility of art will also influence people’s willingness to participate [in arts events] and therefore appreciate art.”
Citing the 2015 celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, which saw strong communal participation in public arts events, Ms. Chong noted the important role landlords and developers have in promoting arts participation.
“In our own neighborhoods, whatever we can do to just bring art into spaces that make it more accessible, this will help to enliven not just the space, but also [enrich] the people who encounter the art,” she said.
People also can encounter art in the retail environment, examples of which were presented by Chris Chong, managing director of Capitaland Retail, who highlighted some developments that emphasize art and its value in their plans.
“We always would like retail and art to be a creative intersection,” said Mr. Chong, who cited as an example Capitaland’s Funan mall, which recently hosted artist/brand collaborations as part of Singapore Art Week 2021.
“We did these ‘creative unions’ where we involved international brands, and they were really very quick [to say yes] and very happy to work with local artists, to come up with art and product designs that were very local,” he said.
“What’s also interesting is that the brands shared these designs in other regions, such as Europe, so this kind of cross-cultural exchange is something very organic and, at the same time, spontaneous and can mark the start of continuing collaborations,” said Mr. Chong.
National Gallery’s Ms. Chong, who previously was president and chief executive officer of Ascendas, has overseen urban art events, such as her current organization’s annual Light to Night Festival.
She shared Mr. Chong’s opinion that providing a public platform for art creation, including spontaneous expression, is desirable. “I think art, sometimes, shouldn’t be overly curated; we must encourage as much organic and spontaneous expression as possible,” she said.
“Of course, if you [as a landlord or developer] are doing it within your space, it’s very much your own decision. But if we want to share art with a much wider audience, I would suggest identifying appropriate [partnerships] . . . with both private and public institutions.”
This could involve working with schools or with urban precincts, she added, such as Kampong Glam in Singapore, where some shophouse owners have commissioned artists and offered them a “canvas” in the form of wall space for murals and other artwork.
Capitaland’s Mr. Chong noted that some of his company’s malls have followed suit in providing platforms on their premises to encourage free and impromptu artistic expression.
“Once, we placed a piano in an atrium, and based on their mood and spontaneity, some people would start to play it and have fun. We did this some time ago during Christmas and it was very well received,” he said.
Gensler’s Calkins, discussing the AT&T Discovery District in Dallas, reflected on how art can arise from a multinational firm—in this case AT&T, partnering with his firm to reimagine its corporate headquarters, located in a new city.
Today, the District includes multiple platforms conducive not only to city residents gathering for food and leisure, but also to appreciation of visual art elements built into the location and performing arts that can use the on-site venues.
“This was really about a company reaching out to a city and saying, ‘This is the place that we’re creating for you, come and be happy, have great experiences, learn more about us, but also learn more about who you are, too,” he said. “Art in the city has the capability to do that.”
Calkins also revealed that Gensler is developing something called the Cities Experience Index to delve into how people feel about being in a city, such as what contributes to their sense of happiness and gratification. “I think a lot of that has got to be [related to] art,” he said.
Seah Chee Huang, chief executive officer of DP Architects, moderated the session and closed proceedings with his observation regarding the lively discussion.
“We recognize unanimously the immense capacity for art to do great things,” he said. “We hear that art enhances the values of real estate, . . . but also that it enriches experiences and reinforces identity and also a sense of cohesion.
“Very importantly, [art in the city] heals and connects, and brings diverse communities together to co-create a more positive future and a better new reality.”