Should Airports Use Art To Improve Their Image?

Airports throughout the nation are stocking up on art to entertain bored passengers and promote the local economy. Atlanta already has 300 pieces of art, including “a large display of stone sculptures from Zimbabwe,” a collection rivaled by Phoenix’s 500 pieces, such as “strands-of-light-reflecting-glass artwork.” Are these cultural offerings pleasant distractions, or intrusive nuisances? Vote in our poll, after the jump.

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Art programs taking off at airports [AP]
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


Edit Your Comment

  1. maddypilar says:

    I spent 3 hours at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam and I was really happy there was a small art gallery there.

  2. Amy Alkon says:

    Beyond art, which I’m all for, American airports should put up clocks, which many lack.

  3. jtlight says:

    I’d rather airports spend time on better free amenities. Free Wi-Fi, more electrical outlets, better seats, etc.

  4. etinterrapax says:

    I really like art, but if something else goes wrong with my flight, it isn’t going to make me feel a whole lot better about things.

  5. acambras says:

    @Amy Alkon:

    They probably took them down for the same reason the post offices did — they don’t want you to realize how much time you’ve spent cooling your heels during delays.

  6. mopar_man says:


    That was the same response I was going to make.

    As for the art, I could really care less. I don’t much like it myself. The local economic support is good though.

  7. hustler says:

    Airports should do whatever is going to cost the consumer the most. That way no one will fly, and Capitol Hill can bankroll them again.

  8. nffcnnr says:

    Art everywhere!!

  9. overbysara says:

    yes, please. but would really like free wifi. this $15 for 10 minutes at some airports is bullshit.

  10. gafpromise says:

    Most of my travel is

  11. gafpromise says:

    I like it when airports use local embellishments, be it art or whatever. It makes the airport feel different, and it’s not like oh, it’s another airport- it’s the ORLANDO airport or the SEATTLE airport. It helps make the trip more interesting and memorable. One airport had a fairly large aquarium, that was neat. I believe it was an advertisement for SeaWorld.

  12. mammalpants says:

    absolutely. public art enhances ALL spaces, not just airports…but in airports, it is particularly nice because we are often stuck in those spaces and the art can make it more comforting.

  13. RokMartian says:

    Yeah – I can see a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit doing well at the Atlanta airport.


  14. gibsonic says:

    put on your tinfoil hats…it’s a conspiracy!

    airports waiting areas are intentionally uncomfortable so that the airlines “clubs” at the airports get more business.

  15. rich.h says:

    Why not….as long as relatively sane people are selecting the artwork. Imho it’s unlikely pieces similar to the 20-foot-square BVDs-stuccoed-onto-canvas I encountered at a gallery the other day would enhance the typical air travel experience.

  16. mantari says:

    No. They’ll only get mad that you’re taking pictures of it and demand you stop and ask all of your media, per secret provisions of the Homeland Security Act, which prevents photography of sensitive transportation infrastructure.

  17. ptkdude says:

    @rich.h: You apparently haven’t seen the giant ants marching across the ceiling in baggage claim in Atlanta. I really don’t think sane people selected those lol

  18. Murph1908 says:

    @acambras and amy

    I always thought the lack of clocks in airports was due to liability if one stopped working or got behind. People showing up at the gate late and pointing to a slow clock would be a nightmare.

    But this theory holds less-and-less merit now, since they all could be linked wirelessly. Probably a combination of the need for accuracy in the clocks, and the cost to install such a system. And since the time is now always on the departure/arrivals boards, you don’t have to go that far to see one.

  19. homerjay says:

    I used to work for a guy that often used the term “Perfumed Pig.”

    I’m pretty sure that term applies here. No matter how pretty you make it, its still a totally fucked up environment.

  20. kaikhor says:

    All of the airports I’ve been in have digital clocks, usually located on the sign at the gate and the screens that show flights. Or maybe I’m just remembering the old days.

    Anyway, I’d rather that instead of spending more money on art they spend money making it easier and faster to get through the airport. Put it into more dependable traffic control equipment or something! The art is nice to look at, but after a 4 hour delay, I could care less. Instead, make no delay and keep the artwork somewhere else…

  21. mac-phisto says:

    yes, i definitely think airports should spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on art as opposed to say, gate & runway expansion, hiring, training & retaining more screeners, or the myriad of other improvements that would actually directly impact my time there.

  22. ikes says:

    Yes. I enjoyed a design exhibit at SFO just last week. On the other hand, i know someone who is in charge of the exhibits at another major US airport, and he spends his day driving around and record shopping…

  23. Joe B. Low says:

    Ha ha, that’s a great picture of the “Green Tree” (at least that’s what I call it) in the Houston Bush airport. Case in point; cool tree, sucky airport. I’d rather have an on-time departure and arrival… that way I don’t have to wander around the terminal.

  24. Transuranic says:

    One long-range view is that, as machines subsume ever more parts of the manufacturing economy and unemployment rates rise (see: Western Europe), it will behoove societies to employ more people as artists, since this is one realm that (in the foreseeable future) will not be taken over by machines. Even when we have intelligent ones, art made by humans will still be highly valuable.

    Thus, let us create the demand for art, everywhere.

  25. pestie says:

    I’m a freak – I actually like airports and the air travel experience. Of course, I pretty much just fly Southwest and have never been bumped, missed a connection, or seriously delayed.

  26. TechnoDestructo says:

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You want less boredom in your terminal, try getting people in and out of it faster.

  27. shoegazer says:

    Or, try the Singapore / Hong Kong approach, turn the entire place into a giant fricking mall, and add some cinemas / massage chairs / comfy cafes instead. When I want art I’ll go to the Louvre.

  28. Youthier says:

    @pestie: You are not alone but you’re probably still in the minority. I do too.

  29. nequam says:

    If we apply the philistines’ argument – i.e., that the money spent on art could be better spent on X – how could we ever possibly justify the creation, purchase and display of public art?

  30. adamwade says:

    No, it’s stupid, and we shouldn’t be paying for that crap.

    They built a new school in my small town. The budget was millions of dollars, of course. They built this pretty new building, with courtyards and such. Useless for learning (a professor, a book, and a log to sit on is all you really need), but it was…pretty. And because of state mandate a certain percentage of the budget had to be spent on “fine art”. So they spent something like 100K on this ugly sculpture and some mobile made out of metal.

    The next year, the art TEACHING budget for the school was reduced along with the library budget that was severely cut, they couldn’t buy any more books, and they lost a library aid position. They still had the pretty art to look at, but the kids couldn’t MAKE THEIR OWN art because there weren’t enough supplies or teachers. So it all looked great from the outside, but education suffered for vanity.

    This art isn’t going to help anyone going to the airport in the same way it didn’t help that school. The money could be better used elsewhere. Art is wonderful. Throwing it in an airport to distract people from the ridiculous way the places are run (I stopped flying domestically six months ago – it’s just all too much, I’d rather drive or go by rail) is just throwing a big pretty red bow around a big piece of dog turd.

  31. Melsky says:

    @mac-phisto: I don’t think it’s the airports hiring the screeners and people like that, it’s done on a federal level.

    Personally, I’d like to see art from local artists in airports, and make it for sale. That benefits the local economy – the artists make money and the airport doesn’t have to pay for the art, they would be making money from it. They could have a gallery of paintings and have a kiosk where people could order prints of them.

  32. rg says:

    Unfortunately the “artwork” at the Atlanta airport is geared towards a small percentage of the population. Again, the city bows to the whining of it’s black community. The sculptures and soundtrack gives visitors the impression that the city is overrun with tribal influences, when in fact it is a beautiful city that is not stuck in the past as is most of it’s black community. It’s a shame that the airport does not choose to show the diversity of the city.

  33. Ola says:

    Sounds like a nice idea, with two caveats:
    1) Sane people select the artwork (thanks RichH), so you get real artwork and not blobs to look at;
    2) Public funds don’t go to it. Because a blob called art is annoying, but it’s especially annoying when someone’s hard-earned tax dollars paid for it.

  34. krom says:

    I don’t understand why airports would rather spend a million dollars on useless visual crap instead of a few thousand on free WiFi.

    Maybe art gives the poor bastards waiting in hellacious lines for repressive security checks something to look at instead of fume, but a frequent traveler is going to get bored of them real fast.

    Diversify the terminal services — add some arcades, reading rooms, net cafes, or something, instead of a Hudson News every 300 feet and handful of poor food options.

  35. threlkelded says:

    I don’t see any reason the airports have to actually buy art to display it, so I don’t really see it as a budget issue.

    I think it’s a great idea. Airports are too severe. Art would make them more inviting.

    As for free WiFi, dream on. They can charge whatever they want for it because you’re stuck and they’re your only option. No business in the world is going to give up that opportunity.

  36. kaikhor says:

    @nequam: I’m a very creative person and know a number of artists. I would never suggest we get rid of all art for something more practical. But there are times and places for art and I’d rather get through the airport quickly than spend forever looking at the art. Melsky suggests using local talent and selling it. I’m all for that, because it does showcase the beauty of art but it isn’t at the expense of things we desperately need in our airports.

  37. Conspiracy types love our art here at DIA.

  38. snowferret says:

    Right cuz i really want to stare at some stickman made of iron bars for three hours. How bout something a little more entertaiing? Like a movie, book or video game?

  39. Wasabe says:

    First of all, the airport, that’s really where, you know, you wanna hang your art, as an artist. That’s like the highest echelon. That’s where your work really gets the attention it deserves, where people really appreciate the emotion and the angst. Where people stop off and go… I cant imagine a better place to hang your artwork, except, maybe, the inside of a bum’s asshole.

  40. TVarmy says:

    I hate to be an idiot or the devil’s advocate, but why should the airport provide free WiFi? Sure, it’d make the wait easier, but at the same time the public is paying for something they’ll only use for a few hours each year on average. In the current system, there is money to be made, and I don’t really see how free WiFi helps the airport or the local economy.

  41. TechnoDestructo says:


    Makes it easier for people to arrange their own accommodation or local transportation through means other than airport kiosks (which in some places are designed to screw people as hard as humanly possible.)

    Helps passengers, helps local economy, probably hurts the airport.

  42. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Sure, who wouldn’t rather have free services like WiFi or entertainment…or maybe a free Chinese buffet, but since that’s not going to happen, why not have art? I went through O’Hare the week before Thanksgiving a few years ago and they had a string quartet playing in one of the terminals and it was an unexpected pleasure that for a brief moment made the airport seem almost civilized.

    I much rather have art than stare at blank walls, because that’s the alternative.

    Most of the airports where I’ve seen art exhibits, the airport doesn’t pay for the artwork..they just donate the space and the artists are glad to have a place to show it.

  43. synergy says:

    How about putting the money for “art” towards some pilots at NW? Or how about some of it towards more lines of screeners who’re paid better so they can attract better employees with more than minimal/inadequate training?

  44. lws1984 says:

    Art is a nice thing to have in airports, it makes the bleak gray institutionalised walls look a bit more..non-institutionalised. However, there are more important things to put in airports, such as:

    1. Good, healthy food.
    2. More comfortable chairs.
    3. Clocks. Seriously, the most we get half the time is a digital indicator on a status board. I don’t think it would take the government or whoever runs the airport too much to drive to a store and buy a foot-wide analogue clock for $15 or so, and a $3 bag of nails to mount it on the wall.