The City as a Curated Space (2008-2011)

My PhD thesis focused on the The City as a Curated Space: a study of the public urban visual arts in central Sydney and Melbourne and was completed (2011) at RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria. The research was on curatorial models of the contemporary visual arts in the public urban realm, focusing on central Sydney and Melbourne as the main case studies. Minor case studies investigated the cities of Shanghai, San Francisco and Sile, Istanbul. 

My research in The City as a Curated Space gave me a foundation for how to consider the idea of 'curation' in relation to urban environments, communities and place, providing me with a clearer methodology in relation to working with specific communities. In particular, my research shifts the idea of the 'curator' away from a role of a person, but more towards curating as a process undertaken in the development of a project. Looking back towards the original use of the term curator, it is about 'caring for a collection', where an urban community narrative emerges and how these narratives can be expressed through artistic form.

If you'd like to access a digital version of the thesis, it can be found on the RMIT Research Repository.


The City as a Curated Space reframes the city as a site that can be read and interpreted as a space for artistic activity, a distributed model of exhibition. This research proposes that the curated city could be considered as an alternative exhibition framework to the visual arts institutional model of gallery based exhibitions. Since the 1990s there has been an increase in public visual arts activity in Australian city centres as a result of the more advanced development of the concept of the public sphere. This has occurred for a number of reasons; artists are increasingly interested in experimenting with engaging in renewed ways of interpreting the public sphere; local governments are seeing the benefits of public art programs in urban environments and there is an increase in urban planners interested in artists contributions to urban regeneration. Jürgen Habermas, German sociologist, philosopher, Marxist and author ofStrukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit (The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, 1962) states that the birth of bourgeois cultural forms such as museums, theatres and concerts developed in nineteenth century Europe, signifying ‘representational’ culture. He argues that with further capitalist activity advances would bring the encouragement of the appearance of theÖffentlichkeit (the public sphere) a characteristic of civil society. The public sphere would occur in the form of popular cultural forms, such as the growth of the media and the increase in places to socially gather and exchange dialogues such as public open spaces, cafes and restaurants. The ideal public sphere in a civil society would be a space outside the control of the state and allow dialogue between individuals to create a newer form of democratic participatory cultural space. Habermas’ interpretation reflects an ideal public sphere and informs the reasoning behind an increased interest in the dialogues that are able to be created by public artistic activities.

The literature review will propose the curated city as an alternative model of exhibition to the traditional model of exhibition of the museology. It will investigate the city as a site for artistic expression; artists methodologies in the public sphere; the dilemma of a nineteenth century visual arts museological methodology in the twenty-first century; learning from contemporary creative ecosystems and existing practices identified as evidence of the curated city. These literature review chapters inform discussions in which the cases are to be tested against.

Two Australian case studies of central Melbourne and Sydney will be developed, focusing on recent public art activity that has taken place in inner urban spaces, laneways in particular. Using Foucault’s methodology of unearthing the genealogy of the visual arts in public urban spaces, the two major case studies will be constructed. These cases will be constructed based on the genealogy unearthed in relation to the discussions areas designated in the literature review chapters. The research will investigate how local development has impacted upon the resulting practice in each of the cities. A further three minor case studies San Francisco, Shanghai and Sile, Istanbul are considered to give an international perspective in comparison to local perspectives. From the two major and three minor case studies an analysis will inform recommendation for a model framework for the curated city.

This research argues that the curated city should be considered an ecosystem where artists are able to contribute and engage with the public in a more accessible way, re-integrating visual artistic practices into broader urban society, rather than through the segregated confines of the elitist visual arts museuological institutions. In an age where intercultural dialogue is becoming more necessary in a globalised and increasingly interracial world, the development of the curated city would encourage public expression in a democratic civil society. Through developing a methodology that assesses the current activity of the curated city, the city is able to identify areas of further development in strengthening the curated city ecosystem.  


J. Habermas. (1989). Structural Transformation of the public sphere - an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society translated by Thomas Burger. Great Britain: Polity Press.