inPERSPECTIVE / ART PARKS: Fostering Creativity & Community Engagement

Leah Kelley

As we’ve been spending more time outdoors, people have started to develop an appreciation for open-air sculpture parks since it’s an opportunity to engage with nature and art. There are about 300 sculpture parks and gardens in the U.S., and each has its own unique vibe that’s irresistible to art enthusiasts. 

Art historian John Beardsley, who serves as the curator of the inaugural Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize, says that art parks came about in the 1960s as a way to bring sculpture to a larger audience. “So, instead of making people go to museums to see art, increasing numbers of artists and curators and administrators wanted to take art to the public,” he said. 

Indeed, art and sculpture parks have become places where families spend time together, as well as venues where artists and art fans can engage in conversations about their favorite pieces. Here are some of the best art parks in the U.S, and how they foster creativity and community engagement.

Encouraging Interaction

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Viewing art in museums or galleries is always an enjoyable experience, but if you want to interact with art, you’ll need to visit a sculpture garden or park. In some art parks, guests are encouraged to touch, climb, perch, sit and play on and around the sculptures. This way, you get to engage all of your senses as you take in beautiful works outdoors.

At the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis, for instance, the sculptures aren’t cordoned off, and some of them are designed for human interaction. There’s Tony Rosenthal’s House of the Minotaur, a piece made of steel panels in Mondrian-esque colors arranged to form a maze, and people are invited to make their way through it. There’s also Vito Acconci’s Face of the Earth, a sculpture of a giant jack-o-lantern face embedded into the ground. Viewers can step down into the eyes, nose and mouth, and sit on it if they wish to do so. 

Meanwhile at the Storm King Art Center in New York, Isamu Noguchi’s Momo Taro, which sits on top of a landscaped hill, has a “peach pit” at the center that serves as a peaceful retreat. The artist wished that visitors, especially children, would climb in the pit and sing inside it to enjoy its unique acoustic resonance. 

Creating Awareness 

Some outdoor sculptures have a special purpose behind their creation, as artists wish to share their beliefs and create 

awareness about important social issues. For instance, sustainability is a priority both in the world of art and architecture, and as a result, some outdoor art parks have integrated eco-friendly features into their design and featured pieces. The Museum Park of the North Carolina Museum of Art is one such example as their art park features works that are the result of collaborations between artists, designers and environmental scientists. 

Meanwhile, outside the U.S., impressive eco art sculptures remind us that it’s possible to create beautiful art with sustainably created metal or steel, found objects and recycled materials. For example, the Skyscraper, a sculpture of a blue whale built to life-size proportions, is made out of more than 5 tons of plastic retrieved from the coast and is on public display in Bruge, Belgium. In the UK, there’s Anthony Heywood’s The Four Horses of Apocalypse sculptures on display at The Sculpture Park. Each of the 6-foot-high pieces is made of reclaimed metal, plastics and found objects. 

Activities & Get-Togethers

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Art parks have become the ideal settings for concerts, performances, exercise classes and art lessons, and a few sculpture parks are now offering these experiences to guests. As a result, they’ve become the place to be for one-of-a-kind activities and fun get-togethers. There’s the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle that offers live music, yoga classes, dance lessons and Zumba every summer. Meanwhile, the Laumeier Sculpture Park near St. Louis has a night market and art workshops. There’s also the Michigan Legacy Art Park, which hosts events throughout the year. In summer 2023, the art park had concerts, traditional hikes, a gala, golf tournament and guided tours, among other offerings. For winter, the park offers a birdwatching tour and an event called Winter Sounds, which features a holiday choir performance, winter hike and a bonfire, which participants can enjoy while sipping warm beverages.   

Art parks are not just places to view gorgeous sculptures and nature scenery, but they’re also places where we can learn new things and participate in fun activities.   RM

For most of her career, Jackie Edwards worked within parks management, often on jobs within her local community. She also spent some time as a gardener with the family business. Now she’s semi-retired and loves to read and write on horticultural matters (and sometimes delves into other topics too). She spends her free time outdoors.

Jackie Edwards | Author