The Spectre of Capital: Public Art in the Capitalist City

Authors: Ariel MacDonald*, University of Alberta
Topics: Urban Geography, Canada, Canada
Keywords: public art, urban entrepreneurialism, cultural geography, urban geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Capitol Ballroom 2, Hyatt Regency, Fourth Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Public art in many North American cities is funded through percent for art programs, whereby a small proportion of public and/or private capital expenditure is dedicated to purchasing or commissioning public artworks. These programs inextricably link public art to the growth and development of a city. This study employs the concept of phantasmagoria to identify and explore the links between public art, public policy and the underlying mechanisms of capitalist urban development. The setting for this research is Edmonton, Alberta – a mid-size but rapidly growing city, in a province known for its oil-based economy and conservative politics. Edmonton is seldom considered in debates over urban competitiveness and occupies a peripheral position in most global markets. This study examines how Edmonton uses public art to create a local identity that can be used to market the city globally, and the dominant narratives within that identity. The main dataset is an inventory of 170 pieces of public art, which was analyzed using concepts drawn from the literature on urban phantasmagoria. This was supplemented by semi-structured interviews with key informants in the City of Edmonton and in local arts organizations to understand how public art is commissioned, funded and located.

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