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What’s a bean worth?

Yesterday I tweeted this picture out from Chicago:


Many of you, I’m sure, have seen this public sculpture before, either in person or somewhere online. It’s called Cloud Gate and it’s by Anish Kapoor – though its nickname has become, quite simply, the bean.

Given that it’s been a hugely successful piece of public art, I asked what people thought the ROI of it might be. Obviously I wasn’t expecting any sort of number, but I wanted to draw attention to the fact that the right kind of investment in public art can pay huge dividends. Oftentimes we, developers and others, don’t think of it in this context though.

And it’s probably because it’s so hard to figure out what those dividends might be. What’s the value of a big recognizable bean that everyone around the world associates with your city? But if you think about it, it’s not that different than a corporate logo that everyone knows is yours, which is why I’m interested in the branding of places.

However, as Gil Meslin rightly pointed out in his tweet storm response to my tweet, it’s hard to consider the bean investment in isolation. I mean, the whole point of the bean is to reflect the surrounding urban landscape. So if it wasn’t for the larger Millennium Park investment and the beautiful historic buildings along Michigan Avenue, maybe that bean wouldn’t be the bean that it is today.

Ultimately, that just makes coming up with any sort of defensible ROI even more difficult. But that shouldn’t deter us. Because as I’ve said before, just because you can’t measure or prove it (right now), doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea. In this case, I think it’s pretty clear that this bean has been a hugely successful investment.

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