Public Art and Spatial Practice/A Short Essay

 Mapping Arts OC is directly invested in mapping public art as a way of better understanding how art works that are produced for public consumption do something to the landscape.


Mapping Arts Project – Orange County is a collaborative project between California State University, Fullerton’s digital history curriculum and the various communities that emerge through the public art landscape in the city of Santa Ana, California. The digitization of Santa Ana’s public art invites new spatial and cultural interpretations into existing conversations and historical narratives regarding public art and spatial practice in Santa Ana and the greater Orange County region.  This project finds that public art plays a significant role in how spaces and places are imagined, negotiated, and contested. As such, it highlights the wide range of community narratives and identities reflected through the public art forms.  By examining pubic art from the perspective of location (where it is produced), and artist (who produces it) we can think more critically about the historical and contemporary relationship between place-making, public art and cultural identity.


Why Santa Ana?

In this first phase of the project we focus on the city of Santa Ana which is also dubbed one of Orange County’s micro “downtowns.”  In this space many public art murals are closely tied to ongoing struggles for inclusion, and belonging in a city that has seen several waves of gentrification over the past decade.  Urban revitalization efforts, many of which have focused on the arts, have gradually renamed, rebranded, and in some cases erased the distinctive culture of many long-time Santa Ana neighborhoods. Thus, while some murals emerge as an opportunity to reclaim and reemphasize the unique and important heritage of the city’s older Chicana/Chicano culture; others have been created for the purpose of making the city more attractive to new investors, residents and visitors. In this city, public art has the power to represent different or conflicting narratives about space and place, as well expand upon the question OluTimehin Adegbeye asks which is “Who belongs in a city?”

Why Map Public Art?

Mapping Arts OC is directly invested in mapping public art as a way of better understanding how art works that are produced for public consumption do something to the landscape.  They not only depict images, scenes and histories, but they conjure futures as well. Building upon the work of Doreen Massey and Rose, Lesley Murray writes “public art is not flat and inert imagery, but its materiality is bound up with the social and cultural practices that surround it; it is therefore necessarily negotiated in public space and in doing so, creates space.” In this sense, the physical location in which public art exists, reveals just as much, if not more to us about the function of that art, and its significance to local populations as do the images themselves.  In this sense, it is important to not only analyze how the topics and issues that murals depict change over time, but how their geographic placement in the city shifts over time.


Why Digital Representation?

By creating a digital representation of Santa Ana’s public arts history, we are actively inviting a wider range of communities and residents to participate in the narratives and discussions that shape the changing city and the county as a whole.  Mapping Arts OC seeks to give voice to the silenced perspectives and stories that have been unintentionally or intentionally neglected or removed from existing historical narratives.  Digitally documenting these gaps over a Google earth API provides a direct intervention into the recovery of forgotten spatial histories and practices.  The opportunity to share this research while it is yet ongoing, allows us to be accountable to a much wider public, and communicate remain transparent in conveying our research and archival methods.

Public Art and Spatial Practice: A Short Essay was written by members of the Mapping Arts OC digital map team in collaboration with Dr. Jamila Moore Pewu.  Authors include:  Ryan Allen, Ryan Brillhart, Mariana Bruno, Cynthia Sanchez Carl Privette, and David Wells.


Cartiere, Cameron, and Martin Zebracki. 2016. The everyday practice of public art: art, space and social inclusion. London: Routledge.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, and Hazel V. Carby. 2015. Silencing the past: power and the production of history.


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