Public Art as an Asset to Security

by Randall Rosenbaum, Executive Director, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts

I’m the director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and as such, the director of public art for the State of Rhode Island. In September, I “attended” a Global Security Exchange Plus (GSX+) virtual presentation by Art Hushen, the President of the National Institute of Crime Prevention in Tampa, FL. Art was going to talk about “Corporate and Public Art as a CPTED Strategy”.

Since my degree is in music education I had to first discover what CPTED stood for, what it meant, and how public art applied to Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.

Art did a masterful job connecting the dots for me as an arts professional and advocate for public art in our community. We advocate for public art as a way to enhance and enliven a community, and so does Art. What Art adds to the conversation are all the arguments that we should be using in convincing people to support the inclusion of art – in all its forms – into and around their buildings and communities. As budgets grow tighter, the resistance to art increases. The added benefits of art, as explained by Mr. Hushen, may help those who don’t entirely “get” art, and may not be enthusiastic about spending money from their budget to commission work.

I understand the concept of “Territorial Reinforcement” (although never by that name), and how art can and should be a reflection of the community in which it resides. I never in a million years would have thought about “Natural Surveillance” as a benefit of public art, and the way that art, strategically placed, can help focus people’s attention so that it focuses attention – even of passersby – and helps promote a safe environment.

I was particularly taken with Art’s examples of work that helps extend the footprint and designate entrances to buildings (“Celebrated Entryways” and “Focal Points”) while at the same time promoting a safe and secure environment. And his examples of the placement of human-like sculptural pieces and murals that mimic an apartment house façade with people looking out the windows, all designed to discourage “bad behavior” from unruly folks, was particularly enlightening. It made me long for statistics that measure the decline in police activity around areas where such artwork is located.

I came away from Art’s presentation with a new vocabulary to use in my work, one borrowed from a field that is highly respected and different from the fields in which I operate. I can’t wait to employ this language in my next meeting with a potential public art client.