Pause on Your Pedal, Linger on Your Stroll, Enjoy the Artwork, the Lines However Droll; Schoolchildren Teamed Up with Poets and Artists to Create Sculptures Which Will Be Unveiled along a Community Route in Wales This Week. Here Wendy Johnson of the Charity Sustrans Reveals Why Public Art Is So Important to Our Wellbeing

Article excerpt

THE word "art", for many people, conjures up an image of hushed galleries and grave contemplation.

But, beyond the rarefied and exclusive atmosphere of a gallery, art is spilling into the outdoors and speaking to people in ways that would never be possible within four walls.

Public art is by no means a new thing. Statues of well-known figures, war heroes and great leaders, are part of a long tradition that goes back as far as ancient Greece, and are still commonly seen today in most towns and cities across the UK.

Now we see contemporary art creeping into the public domain too; video projections on the sides of buildings, performance art in public space or art which has input from the public - a great example being Anthony Gormley's Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar square in 2009.

Art makes public spaces more attractive and interesting, and the impact it can have on people is something that our charity, Sustrans, is particularly interested in.

Sustrans encourages people to make more of their everyday journeys on foot, bike and public transport, but it is also one of the largest commissioners of public art in the UK.

The premise is that artworks on the National Cycle Network enhance and improve the experience of walking and cycling, and put the focus on enjoying the journey rather than rushing toward the destination.

As Sara Rees, a Wales-based artist and the senior arts officer for Sustrans Cymru, says: "Public art is very accessible. Not everyone is comfortable in a gallery but public art is more democratic because it's in a space where anyone can encounter it as they go about their normal routine; shopping, walking down the street, just living everyday life.

"People view the art differently because it's not in a pure white space. It's very much in dialogue with all the things around it; the people, weather changing light and atmosphere. That makes it a very dynamic and exciting art form. It's always changing because the things around it are always changing."

There are thousands of original artworks along the National Cycle Network in the UK that make the routes more interesting, offer a place to stop and contemplate, and involve communities in their creation.

"The main thing about public artwork is that it has to engage with its site," says Sara.

"It is always collaboration between the artist and the public space. That means that the end result tells you about where you are, which is a vital part of any journey.

"Think of the red steel wave by artist Peter Fink that can be seen from the train window as you enter Newport. It really gives a sense of place. There's nowhere else you could be but Newport when you see that piece of art."

Giving a sense of place is also true of the latest art project that Sustrans has been involved in. It has been developed in partnership with Bridgend County Borough Council with funding from Sewta and will be launched on Thursday along the brand new Llynfi Valley community route. …