Museum Debate

Public Art: Who Decides?

Organised by Curating the Art Museum MA group

“Art can inhabit any public space – streets, squares, hospitals, train stations, facades, screens, parks and car parks. Not to mention plinths”  

Culture Strategy, Mayor of London 2018. 

In the past year, discussions on the role of public art have moved to the forefront of public consciousness and dominated news cycles – from the jettisoning of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol Harbour to the controversy over Cecil Rhodes’ statue at the University of Oxford. With millions of people interacting with public art every day, this backlash has raised critical questions around the art that we privilege and draw attention to by placing in our public spaces.

Being unable to visit museums in the past year has perhaps also made us more aware of the art accessible beyond the institutional framework  where different criteria seem to operate for what is selected and how such art  is intended to serve its public. Our discussion will ask how public art can foster a sense of civic ownership; to what extent the public sphere can be curated; and to what degree local communities are involved in the decision-making process. Above all, our panel will address timely questions of ownership and power that shape the public spaces that surround us.

This event has passed.

7:00pm, 9 Jun 2021

Wednesday 9th June, 7pm - 8.30pm

Free, booking essential


Booking closes 30 minutes before the event start time. If you do not receive log in details on the day of the event please email




Museum Debates


Harriet F. Senie 

Professor Harriet F. Senie’s chief areas of research are public art, memorials, memory, and material culture. She is Professor of Art History at City College of New York. In Fall 2000 Prof. Senie was appointed Visiting Distinguished Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. She previously served as Associate Director of the Princeton Art Museum and Gallery Director at SUNY, Old Westbury. In 2008, with Professor Cher Krause Knight, she co-founded Public Art Dialogue, an international organization that is also a College Art Association (CAA) affiliate. The journal, Public Art Dialogue, which she co-edited with Prof. Knight, has appeared twice annually since 2011 and is the only peer-reviewed publication devoted to public art. She has served on the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers; the She Built NYC advisory panel; and was recently appointed to the Task Force on Monuments, Statues, Public Art and Historical Markers by the New York City Council.


John Maine

John Maine was born in Bristol and studied sculpture at the West of England College of Art (1960-64) and the Royal College of Art (1964-67). He was elected Royal Academician in 1995 and a Member of the Royal West of England Academy in 1997. Maine has created public monuments from Aberdeenshire, Scotland to Iberaki, Japan. His work has been exhibited widely, including the Serpentine Gallery, Hayward Gallery, The British Museum, The Royal Academy and Maine was also awarded the first fellowship at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Influences from journeys abroad (especially to Mexico) strongly affected his work. Commissioned by the Government Art Collection, he spent a year in Australia carving a granite arch for the British High Commission, Canberra. Closer to home, he carved Arena in situ on the South Bank outside the National Theatre, London and currently lives and works in Wiltshire.

Sarah Carrington 

Sarah Carrington is the Head of Strategy and Partnerships with The Line, London’s first dedicated public art walk. Previously she delivered cultural strategy and public art commissions in London and Australia with Futurecity, initiating their first international office in Sydney. As Commissions Manager at Vital Arts, Sarah developed pioneering art projects for Barts Health NHS Trust. Sarah’s work at The Line focuses on building audiences and increasing engagement as well as artistic and strategic direction, cultural partnerships and development.

Eleanor Pinfield 

Eleanor Pinfield is Head of Art of the Underground. Since joining in 2014, Eleanor has commissioned work from a wide range of leading international artists, including Heather Phillipson, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Geta Bratescu, Linder and Daniel Buren. Prior to this, Eleanor led the curatorial management of The Tanks “Art in Action” programme, delivering a changing live programme of commissions from acclaimed artists including Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Tania Bruguera, Hito Steyerl and Boris Charmatz. At Tate, she also worked in the office of Director Sir Nicholas Serota. Eleanor is a member of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group and sits on the Mayor of London’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm, launched in 2021.

Josef O’Connor

Josef O’Connor is a British artist and curator. He is the founder and artistic director of Circa, a platform dedicated to showcasing digital art in the public sphere on London’s Piccadilly Lights screen. Circa was launched in October 2020, and ever since, it displays artworks on Europe’s largest billboard for two minutes every day to take a non-commercial break devoted to art. Circa has commissioned works from artists of the calibre of Ai Wei Wei, Anne Imhof and Patti Smith. The most recent commission will showcase the work of David Hockney on the world’s most famous large-scale outdoor screens, including Piccadilly Circus in London, Times Square in New York, Pendry West Hollywood in Los Angeles, Coex K-Pop Square in Seoul and Yunika Vision in Tokyo. In 2013, O’Connor was publicly voted into The Guardian’s 100 most influential and innovative people working across arts, culture and the creative industries in the UK.

Image showing an abstract sculpture against a city skyline
George Rex, 'Liberty Grip' / by Gary Hume, 2017, photograph, via Flickr.