Public Art and its relation to urbanplanning challenges : The french experience


  • Pierre Gaconnet "Service de l’aménagement et des transports. Seine-Saint Denis"


Urban Planning, Urba Design, Public Art


In the last ten years, french towns such as Strasbourg, Montpellier,
Nantes and Orléans have successively chosen to have contemporary
artists working on the public spaces along their new tramways.
For these often growing conglomerations (as well as more recently
for Paris), the tramway as been the latest expression of a urban
project that could be shared between local authorities and the population
in an « almost consensus », whereas through out the country the
legitimity of the standard urban project is more and more contested
and therefore less regarded by local authorities as a political opportunity.
It probably has something to do with the fact that the objectives
of a tramway are equally refering to urban planning stakes as well as
to an every day preoccupation of most of the actual inhabitants of
these conglomerations.
This is the context in which, the promotion of Public Art (a
choice usually known for being controversial), has finally been made
by local authorities and was not opposed (at least not yet…) the hostility
that could be expected from inhabitants and users, since the « national
controversy » about Daniel Buren’s work at the Palais Royal took
place in 1985/86.
From that point it seems interesting to bring about a questioning
on the nature of the link between Public Art and urban planning
through out recent history and thereby on its evolution consecutive to
the coming out of new challenges given to town planning.
Indeed, this recent « enthousiasm » of local authorities for Public
Art needs to be questioned, and especially on the relation it supposes
between Public Art and the notion itself of project, as it can be understood
in town planning.
In that purpose, the institutionnal foundations of public art in
France can be related to the successive meanings of the project in the
understanding of the leading actors in the sector of planning.
First of all, it has to be pointed out that through out the history
of Public art in France governement institutions have held the leading
role. Local authorities really appeared in this sector in the middle of
the eighties, the initiatives coming from the private sector or associations
are still discreet today.
In this part, governement institutions and naturally the Minister
for Culture had from the very beginning a clear intention of supporting
economically artistic creation and artists: in 1951, with the
creation of the 1% procedure, and in 1983 with the creation of a specific
national fund and of the FRACs (regional funds for contemporary
This intention remains an important issue : nowadays, the key
role of State institutions like the DRACs (regional directions for cultural
activity) which intervene in almost every public art commission

ing, is to bring artists (and fundings…) to every local authority who
initiates a project. The background objective being one of promoting
artistic creation in a relevant way refering to the art network values.
The second crucial point is that, the frame in which this support
has taken place is another sector in which government institutions
have had the leading role : town-planning and construction, its
successive approaches and methods and therefore through different «
projects » .





How to Cite

Gaconnet, Pierre. 2002. “Public Art and Its Relation to Urbanplanning Challenges : The French Experience”. On the W@terfront, no. 3 (September):163-70.