Art & Public Space:
Changing the way we behave

“I have a lot of regret that we are leaving this place – with my husband’s retirement, we are shifting elsewhere. I always felt proud about living in this house and would cut out newspaper articles which featured the wall and showed it to people,” says Rajni, a housewife living in Lodhi Colony. One of the walls of her home has been painted by artists for the ST+ART Delhi festival. Such is the power of adding aesthetic value to a space, that people start feeling a sense of pride and ownership towards that place. With street art being increasingly commissioned across the city, it becomes important to understand the impact it leaves on people and the society as a whole. The larger question that becomes critical to answer is whether it is inducing a behavior change in any way. Taking inspiration from the beautifully painted walls across Delhi, we at Lopez Design decided to undertake a study to understand both the artist’s views and views of the people whose house walls have been painted and identify whether these efforts have lead to any behavior change, or precisely, behavior transformation across people.

According to Shankar Roy, Government Service Official and resident of Lodhi Colony, people used to buy alcohol from the nearby liquor shop and urinate on the walls of Lodhi colony. He has started seeing some small changes with the implementation of art in his neighborhood. People have at least stopped urinating on the walls and even if some fall back into the old pattern, residents are there to guard their walls as they feel a sense of ownership towards them. Yogesh Saini, founder of Delhi Street Art Group says, “Change in any society is gradual and while some people change quickly, some take time and others do not change at all, but if something is communicated to us repeatedly it does leave an impact on us.” So, is wall art that is all about beautifying our cities actually encouraging people to act more responsibly and not dirty their city? Slowly, but yes it is leaving an impact for sure.

Work of ST+ART Delhi Group: Wall of a house painted in Lodhi Colony

Another pertinent observation that we could draw, is that painting of these walls and other public spaces is leading to the rise of a new social platform for exchange where people are connecting with each other to discuss the walls that have been painted. Public art in neighborhoods is encouraging a sense of community, bringing friendships and liveliness within colonies that were earlier dull and lacked any sort of activity. These locations have also become popular spots for photography and residents are excited that many people are now visiting their localities, claims Giulia Ambrogi, Festival Director, ST+ART Delhi.

Dustbins in Lodi Garden given a new shape by Delhi Street Art Group

Whether designed to communicate a strong message or simply beautify a dirty wall, these art forms are at the end of the day surely impacting people in some way or the other. The scale of impact will depend on the quality of the artwork that has been implemented. While art is primarily a personal response of an artist towards a subject, a design is always created by designers keeping the user in mind. It thus becomes critical to create art forms within these public spaces that are designed to convey a strong message and leave an impact on people; only then will human behavior, which resists change, at least begin to transform in some ways. It also becomes critical to understand the needs of the people in the society we are trying to convey the message to and that is how the idea of user-centered research comes into play. In conclusion, it becomes important to understand the challenges faced by a particular section of the society and understand their needs from an specific perspective rather than an epic one. 

Work of Delhi Street Art Group: Conveying a strong message to reduce Open Defecation

Taking inspiration from these works of art and how they have impacted behaviors, even in the smallest way possible, we at Lopez Design believe that changing the face of environments through environmental graphics can make a huge impact and induce people to think and reflect on their behaviors. We as human beings take a lot of time to change but even if a small piece thoughtful design in a particular environment provokes the thought of consciousness amongst people, then it is worth the effort. Putting up pictures of Gods and Goddesses on the walls at Nehru place, for example has reduced the number of people spitting on them. Even though it is a small change but understanding what we as Indians connect to and respect and putting that up in the form of environmental graphics can definitely induce people to behave in a better manner.

Written by Ruma Dhingra
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