Greater Geelong Public Art Strategy - Definitions

Definitions for terms used in the Greater Geelong Public Art Strategy: Connecting people, place and environment document.

The following terms are used extensively throughout this Strategy document and definitions have been placed at the front of the document for clarity.


It is generally accepted today in Local Government policy terms that the word ‘culture’ relates to an overarching concept of beliefs and values that underpin the lives of individuals and communities.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation [UNESCO] states that:

Culture consists of all distinctive, spiritual and material, intellectual and emotional features which characterise a society or social group.

Culture therefore underpins everything we do as individuals and as a society including the social ways of behaving and interacting with others. It also includes our understanding of history, the artefacts we make and the stories we tell.

Cultural heritage

Cultural heritage can be considered as both immovable and movable heritage items. Historic buildings, examples of important architecture and places of cultural significance are among the immovable cultural heritage assets of a place and its people. Places of cultural significance might include sacred Indigenous sites and sites relating to significant local people or historic events that have meaning for the community. It is important to remember that immovable cultural heritage preservation and protection is in many cases covered by a legislative framework such as Heritage Victoria classifications which provide legal protection to certain sites (specifically those with significant importance to local indigenous culture), monuments, statues and sculptures.

Movable cultural heritage refers to those tangible and intangible traces, stories and the recorded evidence of people’s way of life that constitute a community’s heritage and history. This may include:

  • the physical collection and display of cultural objects in museums and galleries
  • the collecting of people’s stories through aural history programsresearch into local history for education and publishing activities; and the integration of interpretive signage or artworks in public spaces.


The range of personal cultural expressions are categorised as ‘Art’ and includes a wide range of visual, aural and sensory communication. Art can be seen as an expression of culture, one of the ways in which an individual or a group of individual’s reflect or challenge values contained within the community’s culture. It is generally acknowledged today that the arts include, but are not limited to: the visual arts such as painting, sculpture, digital art; the performing arts such as dance, music and theatre; and literary arts such as writing and storytelling.


The term ‘Artist’ can be associated with those individuals who, as Donald Richardson states in his book “What Art is – and isn’t”, “transform material by manipulation for an aesthetic end”. Richardson argues that as art is conceptual and not functional, then designers such as architects or industrial designers who deal with functional objects are not artists when practicing in their professional capacity. The title ‘Artist’ has also become widely used when referring to creative practitioners such as craftspeople and artisans.

Unlike design professions such as architecture there is no formal professional institute membership required to qualify as an artist, therefore artists are often judged on the basis of the quality of their artwork, recognition of their peers and success through their practice as defined by exhibitions and representation of their work in public collections.

Public Art

The term ‘Public Art’ is widely used across Australia to cover all artworks located in publicly accessible spaces. Public Art relates to artworks that have been commissioned and installed in locations such as streets, parks, forecourts of public buildings, integrated into the building fabric or any space accessible to people. Public art can adopt many forms and approaches from community cultural development activities, place making projects, stand alone artworks and art “built in” or integrated with buildings, landscape or urban developments.

Art can reflect a diverse range of styles and practices from traditional to contemporary art. It includes memorials, monuments, sculptures, or murals and also functional objects such as fountains, street furniture, lighting and paving. It may be both permanent and/or temporary, including installations and performances, billboard art, sound installations, video or laser projections, text, aerosol art and street banners. The works may be commissioned by public or private sectors and may therefore be located on either public or privately owned land.

Public Space (Place and Realm)

Truly public space, is a space owned by a public authority, such as a local Council or state government agency, and is totally accessible to the public. This includes streets, plazas and open space such as parks, foreshores and beaches. In our modern cities there are many spaces that might be perceived as being in the public realm, although they are in fact private spaces that allow public access under certain terms and conditions. For example, a shopping mall may present as publicly accessible while employing security guards to ensure that people behave in a way acceptable to the owners of the space.

For the purpose of this strategy, the term public place (realm) refers to those spaces owned and managed by Council, over which Council can legally make decisions and provide for community needs and spaces and buildings that are privately owned but publicly accessible.

Community Engagement

Across Australia, Councils have recognised that Community Cultural Development [CCD] and Community Art has been both a powerful community engagement and development tool and a wonderful way for community members to contribute to shaping their physical environment.

While there are many different approaches to the community art process, perhaps the most recognised is where an artist, with community development skills works, with the community on developing the conceptual content and then either creates the final artwork or supervises the creation of the work. Either way the community benefits from skills development and an increased sense of ownership of place.

Professional artists can also engage in gathering stories and community values as a source of inspiration from which to draw upon in the creation of their public art practice. For example, an aural history project may form the initial stage of a public art commission from which a contemporary artist develops her/his final artwork. In this way the outcome, while being a significant work resulting from that artist’s practice, is grounded in the local context of community and place.

Integrated Art

There is considerable value in working with artists on integrated artworks as part of the landscape, buildings or civic spaces. Options might include building fabric such as facades, glazing, architectural detailing and public space paving, street furniture, paving, retaining walls or interpretive signage.

The advantages of involving artists in integrated artworks can be the development of unique detailing or furniture that has a strong sense of place and uniqueness. The other advantage is that maximum benefit can be gained through using art budgets to add value to existing expenditure. In addition, there are great benefits from including an artist on the design team to work alongside the architects and landscape architects to bring a deeper conceptual approach to the project.

Stand Alone Art

In addition to artworks that are commissioned as part of major infrastructure work there are always key locations in a city or landscape that may benefit from the addition of a stand-alone sculpture, landmark or icon artwork. While there is a tendency to think of icons as being major ‘landmark’ works, traditionally the term “icon” was used to describe a sacred object, it has also become a description of something that is unique and special to a place, therefore an “iconic” stand alone artwork should not be judged by its size but by its power, uniqueness and strong sense of place.

Platforms for Temporary/Ephemeral Art

Every city and town has a range of public spaces that can be utilised for art events and temporary installations, they may be: parks, plazas, streets, or the entry to a civic building. Temporary projects especially provided opportunities for young and emerging artists and opportunities for artists whose practice is focused on ephemeral art forms.

An effective mechanism for introducing an element of change into the built environment can be through providing art spaces or ‘platforms’ for temporary artworks. For example, there are a number of successful curated ‘billboards’ in Australia. In these situations the artists utilise traditional billboard technology to create their artwork.

An alternate approach is to use digital technology for screen based artworks, including digital screens that can be used for new media art as well as for event programming and special broadcasts. The advantage of the digital space is that it introduces almost unlimited potential for changing visual stimulation.


As an alternative to the concept of distinct platforms, where one can expect to find a changing program of artworks, the concept of ‘Interventions’ is about encountering the unexpected within the city. It is about an artist challenging perceptions about place and forcing a rethink about how we perceive particular spaces in our city. Interventions are traditionally the initiative of an artist who chooses the location and subject matter for the work and then seeks permission from Council to implement the proposal, with or without financial support from the City.

Public Art Events

This category may include one off events such as, performances, installations and urban interventions, or be part of scheduled events such as projection festivals, outdoor exhibitions in parks or other public spaces. They tend to be focused on activities that will activate a place for a short period of time, provide artists with an opportunity to express their creativity and explore ideas associate with the place in which they occur.

Memorials and Monuments

Every Australian city and town will have memorials and monuments to important local people and/or events of significance to the community. In the past these memorials have tended to be in recognition of the early explorers, a district’s founding settler families and those who fought in battle. More recently community art projects have drawn out the stories and histories of ordinary people to be immortalised in artworks in community spaces. Local aboriginal culture and identities have also been celebrated through the creation of various monuments and interpretive artworks around the Municipality in recent times.

There has also been a shift in the approach to designing and constructing memorials and monuments away from the traditional artisan such as the stone mason towards the involvement of artists from across a wide range of artforms. Future memorials therefore should be considered as art opportunities that can have a creative interpretation and potential for a wider narrative of place than might have been considered in the past.

Aerosol Art

The term aerosol art is recognised by Council as a legitimate practice of art in public places involving the permission of private property owners, Council’s Graffiti Prevention Unit and Town Planning Departments. Artwork may take many forms but typically involves the use of paint which is sprayed or applied by conventional means to an appropriate surface and is later applied with a graffiti prevention coating. (For the purposes of this Strategy it can be taken to include legal practice of paste ups).

Graffiti and Tagging

Graffiti is the illegal practice of marking another person’s property without consent and usually involves the use of paint, spray paint, and marker pens. Council does not sanction graffiti or tagging in any circumstances and has a policy of rapid removal aimed at strongly discouraging its practice (See – Graffiti Prevention and Removal – A Community initiative in Greater Geelong - Strategy>).


The term ‘City’ is an abbreviation for the City of Greater Geelong and refers to the whole Municipality.

Connecting People, Place and Environment

A public art strategy for the City of Greater Geelong


Page last updated: Thursday, 7 January 2021