Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Timothy Oakes

Second Advisor

Kim Babon

Third Advisor

Joe Bryan

Fourth Advisor

Erika Doss

Fifth Advisor

Sue Weidemann


This research project explores why public art continues to be aestheticized and intrumentalized, and is thus not an integral part of critical urban discourses in mid-size cities. It is through an examination of the "public" in public art that I endeavored to achieve this. The overarching question of this research is: What are the conceptions and dimensions of "the public" in public art planning and implementation? This research bridges disciplinary divides (art history, landscape architecture, architecture, planning, arts administration, and geography) in order to instigate a more holistic conversation about public art, urban revitalization and post-industrial cities.

Denver was chosen as the site for a case study because it has very noticeably attempted to re-imagine itself as an arts and cultural hub of the Rocky Mountain West. I conducted a field-based descriptive case study of the public art program. Qualitative data were collected through in-depth interviews with those involved in the production of public art in Denver: city officials and staff, civic stakeholders and creative professionals. The fieldwork portion of this research project took five months to complete.

I argue three main points. First, the "public" in public art is multi-dimensional. Public art programs, if they are to be taken seriously as players in re-imagining cities, must understand how people involved in the production of public art define "public" conceptually, and how they approach and employ "public" in an actionable manner. Second, by focusing on the production of public art within urban redevelopment initiatives in Denver I show how public art and urban development are not necessarily (currently) explicitly linked, but are related to one another in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways. Finally, I argue that public art plays a significant role in the everyday lives of an urban public. It became clear from the interviews that there is a major distinction (albeit unacknowledged by the producers of public art) between who is involved in the decision-making for the city's public art and who it is that receives/consumes public art.