Why Art is Taking Off at Airports

Elysian Koglmeier | March 6, 2019

Photo courtesy of San Diego International Airport

Airport terminals are looking more and more like the wings of an art museum. 

With their massive atriums, seemingly endless corridors, and captive travelers, airports are a perfect venue for art installations. Hubs around the world are using art to create a sense of place. Here's why:

Art combats frustration and stress.

Let's face it, air travel is not the equivalent to a trip to the spa (unless you partake in those speedy chair massages). Traveling is stressful. 

Art acts as an intervention to comfort, distract, and entertain anxious travelers. Art can provide a welcome distraction for those with delays or those waiting in an endless security line. It helps jetlagged and exhausted parents entertain not only themselves but also their irritable kids. And, an art exhibition gives travelers time and space to unwind. 

"Airports can be stressful places for travelers. Art can have a calming effect. For passengers who have layovers or delays, airport art exhibits provide an enjoyable way to spend time learning more about the culture of a community," said Nancy Volmer, Salt Lake City International Airport's Director of Communication and Marketing.

Exhibitions are a gateway to local culture.

Airports serve as both a welcome and farewell to the community in which they reside. By exhibiting local art, airports give a taste of what lies outside the arrivals' doors. 

Local artists serve as cultural ambassadors. Their artwork reflects the unique culture of a given place. Rhode Island's T.F. Greene and Block Island airports solicit artwork from Rhode Island artists every year. 

Airports also collaborate with local cultural institutions like museums. These partnerships benefit both parties. Not every airport has a curator or collections manager on staff, so they get expertise from community art organizations. And, the local institutions receive funds and resources from the airports. 

Photo courtesy of San Diego International Airport

Installations provide wayfinding.

It doesn't matter if an airport is a small county operation or an international hub, it will always have overwhelmed travelers. Art helps travelers navigate the maze of an airport. A hurried flier may recognize a sculpture next to the terminal entrance that reminds them that their gate is just a few strides away.

Lauren Lockhart, San Diego International Airport's Arts Program Manager, shares that a piece called The Journey provides helpful navigation. "When you exit the checkpoint you are overwhelmed asking yourself how do I find my gate? Where can I find something to eat? The Journey is situated at this juncture to help guide you in a natural and intuitive way." 

Artwork can be a valuable marketing tool.

Chances are that the majority of travelers have social sharing apps like Instagram installed on their phones and that they are on the app while waiting in the terminals, in line at the food court, or parked at the baggage carousel. 

Art gives those glued to their phones a subject matter to share and post. 

Molly Dickinson, coordinator of the arts programs in Rhode Island airports shares, “I see travelers stop and photograph a wall label with their phone, presumably to reference later. There have been lots of Instagram photos of the artwork posted by travelers.”

Impressive public art pieces can also garner media attention. Consider Denver International Airport's Blue Mustang (aka Blucifer) by artist Luis Jiménez.

Art creates a communal gathering place not only for travelers but for employees as well.

Artwork also creates a sense of place, which can be enjoyed not only by travelers but by airport staff as well. 

Imagine a TSA security attendant who is glued to her station all day. A display case can provide a welcome respite from a monotonous routine. It changes the environment. 

Lauren at San Diego International Airport shares that a metric for success in their art program is when an employee comes up to her and says, "Why did you change out that display?" or, "I love the new exhibition." 

Art has the power to instill pride and ownership in one's place of work. 

Displaying art is one piece of the puzzle. Airports are turning to collection management systems to promote and preserve their treasured art investments. Many airports use an online art collection management system like Artwork Archive.

Already have collection management software, but not happy with how much you're paying or its outdated system? Artwork Archive will migrate all of your data into your account for no additional cost. 

Learn more about Artwork Archive's art inventory management plans here.

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