How Public Art Tourism Can Play A Key Role In Strengthening Economic Recovery
More projects such as the Statue of Unity are needed across the country to deliver additional tourism revenue.
With the Covid-19 vaccine distribution underway and multiple signals that point to a steady economic recovery, India requires growth of at least 8 per cent over the next decade to continue its upward climb and ensure jobs, development and growth across all levels.
Government efforts are focused on several pillars including that of self-sufficiency, export promotion and raising the share of manufacturing. One avenue that also has the potential to contribute is that of tourism.
Until the coronavirus pandemic hit, tourism was a key driver of the global economy. With 1.5 billion international tourists in 2019 and a trillion dollar market globally, it was an avenue that could not be missed.
Indeed places like Dubai and Singapore developed tourism products and integrated them into overall policy planning and promotion towards much success.
For India, tourism in 2019 touched almost 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and domestic tourists alone numbered well in excess of 2 billion.
This number is likely to grow and will be further fuelled with possible implementation of immunity passports, stricter visa policies and growing anti-mobility sentiment, that will drive tourism flows inwards.
While the country has a wealth of sites that can be leveraged, consumers are also continuously looking for new tourist experiences. It is here that large scale installation art can make a difference. For proof one does not have to look far.
Consider for instance the Statue of Unity.
A mammoth sculpture of India’s first deputy prime minister, and commissioned and delivered by the Gujarat government, it stands towering at a height of 597 feet.
Located along the Narmada river in an area named Kevadia, it has literally transformed an entire region bringing with it significant multiplier effects.
Built at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore, the total economic impact well outweighs the investment. Ironically, more such projects are needed across the country towards delivering additional tourism revenue.
Creating tourism products can involve many forms but a key one is that of public art. While there can be no set definition of public art — it traditionally refers to art that is displayed in the public domain, usually exhibited outdoors and traditionally large in its scale and installation.
Public art lends itself to becoming a tourist attraction thereby influencing visitor demand. The demand then lends itself to multiplier effects.
Globally, there are several examples.
The often cited and repeated example is that of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Commissioned in 1991 and completed in 1997 and built at a cost of Rs 1,200 crore when indexed to inflation, the museum has changed the entire economics of the town and the region.
Other examples include the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London that was built in 2012 and is now the United Kingdom’s largest piece of public art. Built at a cost of approximately Rs 295 crore (again indexed to inflation), the artwork has generated significant income and employment for the local population, transformed an entire district and now serves as an additional tourist experience in London.
Concurrently, it continues to be a subject of much debate with most detractors continuing to point out the costs and attendance while excluding the impact it has had on the neighbourhood.
Previously, Chicago with the installation of the sculpture Cloud Gate in 2006, helped generate significant interest (and controversy) for local residents and tourists. Either ways, it helped create an experience and an attraction which people take time out to visit.
The works are indeed expensive — not counting the permits, land acquisition and other costs. But with the increase in visitors per annum combined with the multiplier effects, these investments will continue to lead to jobs, economic development and taxes.
Interestingly, public artworks may also be impermanent and this is a theme to be explored further.
For instance, the ‘love’ sculptures which only spell out the word and are displayed across key cities have been a great success globally.
Similarly, the cow sculptures — a collection of more than 300 fiberglass cattle painted by local artists and displayed on Michigan Avenue in Chicago (starting in 1999) become a worldwide phenomenon.
Subsequently, several other cities had the sculptures displayed which were a great success. It was estimated that these brought in approximately $200 million in tourist spending. The sculptures were a grand success and publications such as Brandweek reported that visitors were often planning weekends around visiting these. Same was the case when these sculptures were displayed in New York.
For India, in spite of a wealth of sites, certain cities are starved of tourism products that can deliver at scale.
Consequently, this has led to the obsession with malls, an indoors culture and a failure to diffuse the richness of regions across to the domestic traveller.
Indeed, while connectivity and infrastructure are growing by leaps and bounds, there must also be tourism sites and experiences that can be developed into an overall product. Public art may well be the answer.
That said, public art projects are fraught with naysayers and detractors. Most of the arguments against such projects boil down to a single theme: the cost.
Indeed, the costs can range from a few crores to thousands of crores. Regardless of the sponsors, arguments can always be made about the funds being deployed elsewhere as the country is never short of challenges or narratives.
Even so, such arguments fail to account for the fact that India needs to produce close to two crore jobs and register growth of at least 8 per cent over the next decade to ensure a sustained path to development. To create jobs across the skill spectrum — from the unskilled to the semi-skilled to the highly skilled — and everything in between.
While efforts are on-going to increase the share of manufacturing and to evolve into a new-age economy, creation of large scale tourist attractions are equally important and can help bridge the gap while delivering new experiences for consumers across the socio-economic strata.
Satyendra Pandey is an India market expert and has held a variety of roles across aviation. He is also an author and a certified pilot. His most recent book is titled: Dissonant dispatches: Indian aviation’s emergent flightpath.
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