How to use public art to boost tourism


When people travel, how do they plan their trips? How do they decide where they’ll go? According to a study, 35.3 million adults say that an art or cultural heritage related event influenced their choice of destination for their travels. The Americans for the Arts' Arts + Social Impact Explorer also helps to broaden the scope of the matter by sharing that arts are the 4th largest driver of decisions made when planning a trip. Norfolkarts says that “ The “WaterFire” public art project in Providence, Rhode Island, attracts 350,000 people annually translating to an additional $4 million each year.”

What this tells us is that now more than ever communities should be investing in the arts. Places like museums, galleries, festivals or sculpture installations can draw tourists from states away. There is no doubt about it - art boosts tourism in communities.

According to the Arts + Social Impact Explorer, arts are a large reason why people travel.

According to the Arts + Social Impact Explorer, arts are a large reason why people travel.

How to increase tourism to your town

Changing a town into a destination does not happen overnight. There is a lot of planning and strategy that goes into a transforming a community with public art. A successful public art program takes time to develop and requires a group of dedicated team members. Your organization will need to have a concise, well documented vision for your program. Many established public art programs or cultural heritage festivals have their plans available to read online like Oklahoma City's Art Master Plan or see Nashville’s “A Developer’s Guide to Public Art”. Reading a few public art program plans can help build perspective about what works well for programs.

“Public art can be used as a tool to revitalize and promote the community, making neighborhoods more inviting.” AMP UP OKC

On the other hand, don’t be intimidated by large public art programs - most likely they’ve been around for a few decades and are simply established and well seasoned. You’ll get there! Remember, you have to start somewhere.

Examples of public art as tourist destinations

Here are a few examples of communities using their public art programs in innovative ways to encourage tourism to their cities:

Art Walks

Denver offers a public art walking tour itinerary. This information right on their website, making it easily available to be shared on Facebook, pinned on Pinterest or a variety of other ways people look for things to do on their vacations. An art walk is a great way to direct people through your city and encourage them to visit different areas of town. Art walks are becoming increasingly popular around the United States and benefit communities greatly as they encourage supporting local businesses.

Stix is a sculpture that can be seen on Nashville’s Public Art walk.

Stix is a sculpture that can be seen on Nashville’s Public Art walk.

Sculptures are placed outside the entrance of the San Jose Zoo.

Sculptures are placed outside the entrance of the San Jose Zoo.

Partnerships with businesses or organizations

Create unique opportunities for people to encounter art with creative placement of sculptures, murals and installations. For example, there are sculptures at the entrance of the San Jose Zoo. These surprising encounters of art are great marketing opportunities for venues that might need reviving in your community or for those who simply want a new way to bring joy to their visitors.

Ever-changing collections

Having a permanent art collection is a milestone surely to be desired. However, some communities are finding much benefit in art collections that are always changing. Featuring art that is on loan or for sale, like Sheridan, WY does, creates curiosity throughout the town and encourages visitors and residents to explore to find new pieces of art. This type of collection may encourage regular visits from people outside the community as they will want to see what has changed in the collection.

After Dark Tour

Tampa, FL has a nighttime walking tour of their public art. The tour weaves participants by 17 art pieces over a path of 2.6 miles. The pieces on this tour are either best seen at night because of lighting fixtures or can be better appreciated. Consider lighting your public art pieces with colored spotlights to bring a different view for an after hours crowd and is a great tourist attraction. You could even get local restaurants and shops to help be part of stops along the walking route to involve other businesses.

How to promote your public art collection

Once you find your community’s niche for public art, consider making an online map of your art collection so people can plan their trips to include your collection. If you are looking for an overall approach for improvement to your downtown, you might want to check out Main Street America to help point you in the right direction. Remember, you can always start small and work your way towards your larger goals. The point is to just get started!


Free public art RFP checklist

Looking to grow your public art collection? Getting ready to write an RFP? Download our Public Art RFP checklist to make sure you get the most out of your artist responses.