Research: Art on the Underground

How does the Art on the Underground programme contribute to the urban development of London?

A first-class dissertation submitted to The University of Manchester for the degree of Arts Management, Policy and Practice in the Faculty of Humanities. 

This dissertation assesses how Art on the Underground, a contemporary art programme responding to the context and environment of London Underground,contributes to the urban development of London.

Regarded as a sub-specialism of public art practice, existing literature on art within underground transport networks is often written from an institutional perspective and lacks external analysis. Furthermore there is limited text on the relationship between the urban environment and these institutional public art programmes. As the regional authority responsible for both transport and economic development in London, Greater London Authority policies place emphasis on the integration of different modes of transport and the urban realm. This is exemplified by developments such as the multi-billon pound modernisation programme for London Underground and the construction of new‘Super Hub’ transport interchanges. This dissertation proposes that the Art on the Underground programme has a significant part to play in the formation of these new urban developments in London.

Research was conducted through two main methods. Firstly through a study of secondary literature on public art practice, spatial and urban theory and the history of art and design on underground transport networks. Secondly through conducting interviews with key staff who manage contemporary art programmes on underground transport networks on Merseyside and Tyne and Wear, and with curatorial staff atLondon Transport Museum.

This study concludes that Art on the Underground primarily contributes to the urban development of London through the creation of autonomous, high quality artworks that are vital in forging a distinctive identity within these new integrated transport developments. It argues that in continuing the long-standing strategy of using art to create a distinctive cultural identity for the Underground, Art on the Underground can significantly contribute to these homogenised, capitalist developments. Further more it also strengthens London’s claim to be the world’s most culturally significant city by enhancing the public space of the Underground through a unique programme of art.

Keywords: Art on the Underground; London Underground; urban development;capitalism; space; public art.

Read in full on

Image: Dryden Goodwin, Linear (2010), Art on the Underground