Public Art: 4 Destinations That Paint the Town

Author: David McMillin       

public art

This mural, painted by Gennaro Garcia and DOSE, adorns the north-facing wall of Deportes America, just south of Thomas Road on 16th Street, in Phoenix. (Eric Lindberg/Visit Phoenix)

The Louvre, The Met, The Prado — the list of must-see collections never ends for travelers interested in art. However, enjoying a dose of creative expression no longer requires purchasing tickets to a museum or gallery. From New York to New Zealand, destinations are embracing the public art movement and giving visitors and residents more reasons to get out and explore their streets and more excuses to post on Instagram.

The benefits may involve more than sharing #NoFilter beauty, too. A 2017 study at the University of Kent revealed that engagement with the arts can help societies counter economic, cultural, and political divisions. The research, which surveyed more than 30,000 people, uncovered a link between attending and participating in the arts and charitable giving and volunteering. The more art you see, the more likely you are to care about your community. That’s good news for everyone, and the researchers offered one recommendation: Art should be within reach for everyone “with policies or investments that make the arts more widely available and ensure that access is not restricted only to the wealthy.”

There is no better way to make art more accessible than to put it outside for everyone to see, and more cities are giving their most creative minds permission to turn their streets into studios. So look up, look down, look all around to see neighborhoods turned into works of art — or just read on.

public art

Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Project and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, of the Grammy Award-winning band The Roots, worked together to create ASpire: No Limits, a mural celebrating the life of community activist Shawn L. White, Ph.D.


The City of Brotherly Love also can claim the title of street-art trendsetter. In 1872, the Association for Public Art (aPA) became the nation’s first private nonprofit organization dedicated to commissioning, preserving, interpreting, and promoting public art in the city. That tradition continues today with the Mural Arts Philadelphia program — an initiative that started in 1984 as an anti-graffiti campaign. To date, Mural Arts Philadelphia has added nearly 4,000 pieces of art to the city.

“These projects, while taking on complex issues, can often be about the little known or untold stories of progress and perseverance in Philadelphia’s various neighborhoods,” said Rick Staub, senior vice president, convention division, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. “They create a sense of community pride and offer a physical rallying point for future generations to learn about their heritage. Visitors — who may be initially drawn in by the colors and styles of paintings — are engaged in a deeper way when they read about or are educated about the symbolism. Whether it is Dr. J, the famous Philadelphia 76ers’ basketball star, or Cecil B. Moore, a civil rights pioneer, residents and visitors are captivated by local heroes and their impact on the city.”


As more musicians and mountain-loving adventurers flock to Denver, the Mile High City is earning a reputation for going against the grain. In 2017, Infogroup awarded the capital of Colorado with the badge of honor of the third most-hipster metro area in the U.S. To experience that fringe feel, visitors don’t have to walk into a coffee shop or tattoo parlor, though. Instead, they can simply take a walk through the River North (RiNo) Art District to get a taste of the city’s creative spirit.

“RiNo Art District has always been a neighborhood of artists,” said Rachel Benedick, vice president of sales & services, Visit Denver. The murals created through the CRUSH, an annual street-art festival in September, on walls and other initiatives, she said, celebrate the past and present artists. “The abundant street art beautifies the neighborhood — a mural is much more appealing than the brick wall of an old warehouse — and encourages creativity, enriches the community, and brings the art out of the galleries and into the streets to showcase the personality of the neighborhood,” Benedick said. “Our public art is a very visible reminder of Denver’s abundant arts scene and cultural renaissance.

public art

The River North Art District (RiNo) has street art on nearly every corner. (Visit Denver)

Long Beach

Since 2015, the annual POW! WOW! Long Beach festival has helped super-size the collection of street art in the southern California city, but the destination’s love for public creativity began long before the event. Since the forming of a formal arts council in the 1970s, Long Beach city officials have sponsored art initiatives in every neighborhood of the city, including a mural project in Cambodia Town and the Creative Corridor Challenge, which invites residents to identify walls for mural paintings and other vacant spaces that can be beautified.

“Long Beach’s street art is a vibrant visual accompaniment to our city’s artistic vibe,” said Bob Maguglin, director or public relations, Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. “A visitor strolling or driving in the city and eyeing the giant-sized POW! WOW! murals and other outdoor public artworks gets a first-hand introduction to a city that celebrates creativity and appreciates artists and musicians. The outdoor art goes hand-in-hand with our five distinctive art museums, dozens of art galleries, and more than 100 annual art, culture, and music festivals.”

public art

Long Beach features of colorful murals that were part of the POW! WOW! global street art festival. Artists Madsteez and Hueman created this one at 2205 E. Broadway.(Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau)


Decades ago, Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row neighborhood — filled with vacant lots and boarded-up buildings — wouldn’t have made it to visitors’ sightseeing lists. Leave it to artists to see the area’s promise. Today, the neighborhood is one of the most popular places in Phoenix, and the murals that line the district helped it earn the distinction of being named one of American Planning Association’s 15 Great Places in America.

“Art in Phoenix contributes to the community’s bustling cultural vibe and invites visitors to immerse themselves in the local culture and discovery of the city,” said Trish Lanteigne, media relations manager, Visit Phoenix. “Its existence brings together the community and visitors to appreciate the artistic expression of the artist and their interpretation of the surrounding area. Many of the murals depict Phoenix’s cultural heritage, from the mythological rising bird to Native American and Latina influences. Roosevelt Row’s First Fridays, a weekly art walk, attracts thousands along the street for selfguided exploration of public art and galleries each month.”

public art

This mural, created by Lalo Cato, Thomas “Breeze” Marcus, and Pablo Luna, is one of many in Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row neighborhood. (Mark Lipczynski/Visit Phoenix)

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