Illustration by Corina Nani

Valuing Art in Public Spaces

Liliana Harding and Corina Nani


Public art defines and enhances the world that we inhabit. Here we propose to use its expression in the urban and virtual environment as a mediator for our understanding of how people of various social backgrounds, skill, or disability engage with various public spaces. The article thus reflects on how wellbeing is generated in inclusive public spaces, by drawing on the experience of moving art and culture to the virtual environment. We start from the recent experience of the pandemic and draw on the example of street art – a form of culture designed with the widest public in mind. As new limits have been imposed to the accessibility of traditional forms of culture, public art has been extended and reshaped in the virtual space. This has reopened questions of the value we place in public spaces and to what extent public art can promote inclusivity by making culture more accessible in the real and virtual environment alike. The main reference point are public art projects around which we build an inter-disciplinary dialogue. We start with the perspective of an artist and urban designer and a social scientist. The wider public is drawn into the discussion through a series of podcasts focused on the value we attribute to public spaces.*. Ultimately, we reflect on opportunities to achieve an inclusive public space, by drawing lessons from the integration of virtual and urban street art – as experienced in the example of the Fisart and Virtual Fisart street art festivals **.

AnthroArt Podcast

Liliana Harding


Dr Liliana Harding is associate professor in the School of Economics, University of East Anglia (UEA) and Associate member of the UVT (Universitatea de Vest din Timisoara) East-European Center for Research in Economics and Business (ECREB). She is also working as a visiting associate professor in economics with the University of Tohoku, Japan, promoting cross-border academic collaborations that focus on sustainable development goals. Her research to date has drawn primarily on a keen interest in economic and practical aspects of human migration and social mobility. As such, her focus lies at the intersection of economics with other social sciences, and extends to areas of cultural economics and public art.

Corina Nani

Author and Illustrator

Dr. Corina Nani is an associate professor in the Faculty of Arts and Design, West University of Timisoara (UVT). From 2011 she has conceived and managed the “International Street Art Festival – Timisoara” (FISART), a project organized by the EnduRoMania Foundation in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts and Design, Timisoara City Hall, various partners and cultural organizations in the city. The realization of this annual Street Art event has ranked Timișoara on a leading position in the country in this field. More than 550 large and highly visible works of art, artistically valuable, were created in the public space..

Nicoleta Finariu Andrei


Nicoleta is an Anthropology student at the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Sociology and Social Work. She is interested in folklore and ethnomusicology.  She also has a particular interest in mental health issues and how people with a psychiatric condition live their lives and how they are understood by the “others”.


Our real and virtual environments have merged during the pandemic and blurred once and for all the distinction between the private and the public space. We hence set out to paint alternative images of public spaces that draw contrasting perspectives of what we value in the public space. We experiment with a dimension of enquiry reflected in the arts-based research movement[1]. The public space shaping up during the pandemic has meant a frequent need to merge the private and public sphere, along with our personal and professional lives. This project has also acquired a participatory research dimension, as we produced and built the argument on a related podcast in dialogue with people representing various backgrounds and social groups.

The ensuing discussion is mediated by the experience of a street art festival and its ‘forced’ move to the virtual sphere in 2021. Fisart is a street art festival started in the city of Timisoara, and Virtual Fisart has been its virtual manifestation during the pandemic. The shift of daily interactions to the virtual world provided an opportunity to rethink the impact of interventions in the urban environment, and the significance of a universal framework anchored in the virtual public space. This invites the reassessment of accessibility of public culture. We propose the comparison of street art as created in the real, versus the virtual sphere. Yet, as we transcend the real and the virtual space, we note new opportunities to consider street art, as a tool to promote inclusivity in a shared public space.

Our cities as public spaces could be defined as ‘inclusive cities’ that offer cultural inclusion by locating and transferring the content of street art works. These are crucial elements of the visual information system and integrating factor of the local community and a way of constructing the identity of the public realm. The city as a sensory, emotional experience offers intense social processes. It is that feeling that overwhelms city dwellers because of its size and excess. Street art becomes vital for the regeneration of ‘wounded spaces’ or of ‘visually wounded spaces’ that are simultaneously ‘socially wounded’. These can be spaces that suffer from an identity crisis resulting from the lack of identification of people with their place of living.

The experience of virtual street art and spaces further allows to reconsider the possibility to enhance the way in which we shape the world around us. It also leads to the question of what constitutes a more accessible public space, and how that can be enhanced through street art. We redefine the public space, from its conception as a busy transit place, to a destination allowing for contemplation. This is in contrast with an emphasis on public infrastructure, for example prioritising transportation networks in urban design. There, people are helped to move away from shared spaces, reinforcing separate private spaces. These can define prosperous individual daily lives, but trigger separateness and alienation and result in urban decline[2]. Public art and design of inclusive public spaces allows instead for the coming together of various dimensions, from the visual to our spatial perceptions, stimulating a unifying human wellbeing.

Valuing Public Space through real and virtual cultural goods

While the public space of our cities can be seen as a place of struggle, where people gather to challenge established power structures[3], it has been historically designed to capture and reflect the wellbeing in an urban context. Economic development is also measured by the conditions prevailing in our local or urban settings. But wellbeing for groups and individuals is known to ensue from a variety of factors beyond the economic sphere. A good example is the satisfaction we derive from freely available public cultural goods and access to these, both today and across time and space.[4]

Moreover, as we question our ‘work-life’, the implication is that life happens somewhere outside the sphere of economic activity or the workplace. As social beings we devote a large part of interacting with others. Time dedicated to families, friends, and social networks are the best predictors of wellbeing in the public space. The spaces of interaction and what defines it matters, as it sets the scene for support, information, and ideas we provide each other.

Extending interactions in virtual public spaces, allows such exchanges to expand and to connect easier with our cultural and artistic heritage. The virtual space has the ability to synthesise and sometimes recreate cultural goods, making them accessible beyond the ‘city walls’, as global public goods. The ever-increasing pervasiveness of communication technologies links people, but also reconfigures the meaning of the traditional public space. The capacity to generate wellbeing in the traditional, city context, of public spaces is challenged. As the pandemic has shown us, we crave direct human interaction. The limitless virtual space has temporarily substituted real public spaces, permitting public arts and culture to survive, yet it can barely substitute the original expression of public culture in its ‘city space’.

In fact, limitless as the online public space might seem, it comes with serious limitations, especially for those usually on the fringes of society. Marginal groups are negotiating access along new limitations: from the availability of online connectivity to the ability to navigate the virtual public space. The constraints of disability or social capital are at least as severe in the vast virtual space as in our cities and real spaces requiring a careful, inclusive design for enhanced accessibility to all.

In virtual spaces, constraints to public culture are also diversified – from the lack of possibility of ‘random encounters’ with the art in our streets and public spaces, to the ability to enjoy cultural goods enhanced by human interaction – such as the experience of a live concert, the theatre or the murals on a real city wall. Despite such limitations, the migration of public art forms to the virtual space – including of street art – allows us to both appreciate and reappraise the value we derive from our public spaces.  

The next section looks more closely at the way in which street art, which has been inherently constructed as an inclusive art form, accessible to all in the city space, has redefined itself and learnt from the experience of numerous lockdowns during the recent pandemic. It thereby had both the potential to re-emerge as a more enhanced form of public art and to review its mission upon return to the real public space and cities. By the new option of sharing the virtual public space, it might allow for enhanced inclusion and representation in the public consciousness.

Moving street art from the real to the virtual public space

Our first question is how street art itself can be reconfigured to facilitate ongoing access and inclusivity of what normally belongs to public spaces. Then, can the virtual space substitute or complement and perhaps enhance the public space and street art beyond such temporary closures as experienced during the pandemic? Finally, what can public artists do in the virtual space to which the pandemic temporary confines them, and what can they learn from the experience of public space ‘closures?

Public space is a common value, a meeting place, and thus includes in the virtual space created by new technologies. Street art has been perceived over the years as an illegal activity, unworthy on the art market and hence classified as delinquency rather than creating value in the public space. We first wish to reframe street art in public spaces as a new way to enhance wellbeing, even where it sometimes generates negative reactions from the public or authorities. While acts of vandalism are condemned and are usually labelled as such under various manifestations of graffiti, street art in its positive acceptance is encouraged. The goal is cultural and aesthetic enrichment of the urban space. Being figurative and accessible, street art reaches an audience reluctant to the supposed hermetic character of contemporary art. Moreover, street art as captured by anyone in photographs, taken in public spaces, flows easily with the stream of images that feed social networks. Indeed, social media has made street art not only acceptable, but highly valuable, and perhaps less controversial.

We can also emphasise that photography has been, is and will always be an important component for planning, making and documenting works of art in public space in the context of urban aesthetics. The photos taken are an integral part of the planning process of various works in the architectural and urban context. As it stands, photography of street art in the urban space has been the only certain way in which to access and understand street art in the future. This is because photography remains unchanged, while the work in in the street has been designed to alter over time, or even permanently disappear. As a next step, we proposed for street art to be now created on a virtual city canvas, using photographs of different city walls and spaces. Virtual murals can then be virtually enjoyed and accessed, despite both artists and the public being confined away from real streets and city spaces.

Case study: Fisart as street art between the real and the virtual public space

From the temptation to intervene in the public space, to experiment artistically with visual codes that reflect different ideals, messages and perceptions about the world, the Fisart (i.e., the Timișoara International Street Art Festival) concept was born. Over the years it acquired public artistic value and became internationally recognised thanks to renowned international artists contributing to the city’s public space. The city of Timisoara has emerged as a scene where the possibilities of artistic expression are unlimited, accessible, and never finalised. Fisart is the most representative Street Art festival in Romania, transforming in just a few years the city of Timișoara into a museum of street art and bringing together various approaches and styles, as well as the city’s inhabitants and its visitors.

The ‘right to the city’ for artists corresponds to a development of the city’s image through visual and artistic regeneration of the urban public space. The transformation of the city, the changes in the existence and structure of human communities, the evolution of architectural forms, new ways of artistic expression as generated by new techniques, technologies and materials, have influenced and transformed in the last century the typology of Urban Art or Art in the Public Space (APS). Moreover, as a form of public art, it is essentially more involved in the life of the community to which this art form belongs. APS has been in fact conceived as a kind of urban art workshop – as performance in progress. The events that Fisart proposes in this context brings to the public freshness, and an extraordinary variety of themes, languages and techniques of urban art forms, along with awareness through direct and indiscriminatory public exposure.

Inclusion is the central theme of a healthy society and accommodating its diversity in the public domain is a right of all members of society. Every city dweller has a right to the city. Fisart has thus become vital to an inclusive city by promoting creative expressions and increasing the attractiveness of public spaces – while making the urban landscape more individual to different experiences. It raises awareness of the power of each of us to design a symbolic space, of harmony and social cohesion, in which we focus on the things that bring us together and make us feel part of the community. An example of resulting work is from the walls of School no 1 in Timisoara, made for and with the children studying there.

Fig. 1. ‘Different Together’ by Corina Nani, 2021.

The motto of this piece of public art is is ‘Different together!’ – the basic concept being that of a common space, co-created by the citizens of a community on the basis of direct and personal contacts and experiences. These generate opportunities for mutual knowledge and understanding, to live together in harmony. The message evokes the need to overcome, in interaction with our fellow human beings, the limits prescribed by stereotypes and cultural patterns.

As new technologies are taking over at astonishing speed, we find ourselves in a virtual space, somewhat simplifying if not substituting the perception of real public space. We are witnessing a shift in the boundaries between public space and virtual space where ‘street art’ itself has adapted along with virtual work patterns in various domains. As such it has gained new relevance through the possibility to prepare works in the virtual space and introducing the new phrase of ‘making street art from home’. This is the route of crossing street art – as found in the usual context of photography of real street art and shared online- into the virtual realm where we conceptualise it into ‘virtual streetart’. One of its prominent manifestations can be found in the Virtual Fisart project promoted by Corina Nani, as a form of ‘making street art from home’. Some examples of work produced in this framework during 2020 can be seen below, from the series ‘At the Window’ created by Corina Nani in a residential area of the city of Timisoara. While it currently remains in the virtual domain, it presents urban dwellers with new possibilities and aesthetics that – at the end of an era of public confinement at home – can be brought into their real urban space.


Fig. 2. Virtual Fisart, ‘At the Window’ series by Corina Nani, 2020.

In this instance photography has the role of mediation, of support through which we can transform the image of the city in which we live through artistic expressions and interventions into a work of art in its own right. In practice, within Virtual Fisart, by using the photos of city infrastructure, primarily from Timisoara – Romania and Frankfurt – Germany, the initiative challenged various artists from around the world to imagine what these cities would look like as art galleries. Artists integrated virtually their own creations on the surfaces of buildings (photographs thereof), with the resulting works of art becoming unique examples of opening and creating bridges of communication in a virtual public space with global dimensions.

This new form of public art creates a lot of new opportunities and changes in the way art is experienced and made available to many people around the world, through a virtual museum. Moving artistic creations into the virtual space also offers answers to various current problems: from the formation of identities and landmarks to aspects of public awareness, sustainability, socialization, integration and conservation of existing heritage – accessible to all.

Following the analysis of the works received from participating artists within the Virtual project Fisart – Making Street Art from Home, the process of transferring street art into the virtual space was carried out as a first stage. This leads now to another step in the project, with reflection on the way in which art in the public space can capture an ever-wider audience and perspectives beyond the confinement of the city space. Based on the collection of photos produced, a digital map of the cities can be created, as a modern virtual reflection that emphasis various perceptions and the recognition of shared public urban spaces.

Conclusion: from virtual street art to new, accessible public spaces

Introducing an interdisciplinary conversation and discussing our urban versus personal spaces in the context of real versus virtual manifestations of public art, allowed us to deconstruct and evaluate layers and shades within contemporary public spaces. By moving through neighbourhoods and considering certain places and their virtual representation and examples of street art we also touched upon the opportunity to generate inclusivity in the public space.

The Virtual Fisart project referred in this paper and the digital map hosting pictures of buildings, from various angles – allowed us to assess the interest generated by different urban public spaces, along with the public art that they host. Following the digital footprint of viewings of such works of art on various platforms, we might estimate for the future the value attached by the public to street art in alternative public spaces and align art interventions with the interest of those encountering it in the urban setting. A conceivable step is thus to transpose the most appreciated virtual works of art into the real public space, after having gathered valuable information on the public reactions to virtual pieces of street art.

Artists involved in the Virtual Fisart project hope to integrate selected works of art from the virtual space onto the real city walls, after evaluating the public response and views on a set of different works developed on the photographic canvas of the same buildings. That way, the objective is to generate an inclusive information feedback loop, having first used a virtual space drawing on information from the physical space and then reintegrating work created in the virtual space, ‘from home’, to the real public space. This is to be enjoyed in the urban environments providing the original canvass and with an input from a global public viewing the works on platforms such as Instagram or Facebook, before street art would become reality in the original streets and urban space.

* This paper is the result of a collaborative project between the authors, Liliana Harding at the University of East Anglia and Corina Nani at the West University of Timisoara – Faculty of Fine Art and Design. Our underlying conversations have benefitted from the additional involvement in a series of related podcasts by Francoise Pamfil, an architect at the Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism Bucharest. The series of podcasts underpinning the ideas under discussion in this article are accessible at: ‘Let’s talk about public spaces’ [currently available in Romanian under the title ‘In cautarea spatiului public’].

** The Fisart festival took place between 2011-2020 and was based in Timisoara; the ‘Virtual Fisart’ festival 2021-2022 is an online festival accessible online at:


Baghiu, Adriana “Life story. Street art or the urbal reality of the present with the visual artist Corina Nani”. Express de Banat. (February 5th, 2023) Available online in Romanian at:

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Frey, Bruno S. Economics of Art and Culture. Part of SpringerBriefs in Economics book series. (Cham: Springer, 2019.)

Nancy Gerber, Elisabetta Biffi, Jacelyn Biondo, Marco Gemignani, Karin Hannes & Richard Siegesmund, “Arts-Based Research in the Social and Health Sciences: Pushing for Change with an Interdisciplinary Global Arts-Based Research Initiative.” Forum: Qualitative Social Research 21, no. 2 (2020): Art. No. 30, 1-15. doi: 10.17169/fqs-21.2.3496.

Ghiu, Bogdan. “The urban city and ‘the right to the city’.” Available online in Romanian at: (Accessed May 1, 2023).

Glaeser, Edward. Triumph of the City. (London: Macmillan, 2011).

Harding, Liliana. “Is street art good or bad for you?” Timisoara Journal of Economics and Business 12, no. 2 (2019): 203-226.

Lefebvre, Henri. Le Droit à la ville [The right to the city]. 2nd ed. (Paris: Anthropos, 1968).

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. 15th ed. (Malden: Blackwell, 2016).

Nani, Corina. “VIRTUAL FISART. Making Street Art From Home.” Hosted by EnduRomania Foundation.” Available online at: (Accessed May 1, 2023).


[1] See for example, Gerber et. al (2020).
[2] Glaeser (2011)
[3] Bravo (2018)
[4] See, for example, Frey (2019) for a discussion on the value of art and culture as understood by cultural economists.

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