What part can art play in encouraging us to lead more active lives?

Back in May, with our Active by Design campaign in mind, my colleague Bethany wrote a piece about how design eases her journey to work – smart phone apps, street signs and imaginatively-displayed shop windows all help her find her way and keep her motivated as she struts to the office each morning.  I’m lucky – I have a short walk from home to work so I don’t need much help.

However, last week I was in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games and followed the organiser’s advice that walking would often be the best option to get to events.  I followed this to the letter and even walked the 5 miles from my hotel to Tollcross for the swimming at 9am one morning.  Signs along the way helped me stay on track, even when passing through the potentially disorientating no man’s land between the ‘villages’ that collectively make up major cities like Glasgow.

But when I moved on to Edinburgh later in the week, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was art, as well good design, that kept me walking as I rushed from show to exhibition to show at the Fringe.  There’s plenty to look at in Edinburgh, especially at festival time, and I’m a big advocate of looking up - especially in built-up areas, to see what’s sometimes hiding above eye-level - but looking down can provide some unexpectedly joyful results too. 

Soldiering on through Auld Reekie’s famous rain to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art a little way out of town, I looked down to see that, for once, the pavement did not match the grey sky.  Rather the tiles on George Street were red and yellow.  A pleasure to walk all over.

Red and yellow tiles on George Street, Edinburgh

And walking back the long way via Leith Docks, I later came across poetry on the pavement outside the Omni Centre.

Poem by Roy Campbell on the pavement on Leith Walk, Edinburgh

Anyone who has been to Edinburgh will know that it has hills. Steep ones. And it has steps. Lots of them. The closes, or alleyways, running up to the Royal Mile are dauntingly steep.  But who can resist skipping up all 104 of the Scotsman Steps, or as The Guardian called them, the "generous, modest masterpiece of contemporary public art"?  Installed in 2011, Turner Prize winner Martin Creed’s Work No 1059 uses many different colours marble to create a unique and irresistible route up and down.

Martin Creed’s Scotsman Steps

This set of steps (this work of art, if you please) was commissioned by the neighbouring Fruitmarket Gallery. Once inside the gallery you are enticed up yet another tempting staircase by Turner Prize nominee Jim Lambie, whose use of everyday vinyl tape is both arresting and inviting.

Jim Lambie's 'Zobop' at the Fruitmarket Gallery

All of these pieces combine artistic imagination, skilled craftsmanship and design thinking to make the experience of getting from A to B a little more enjoyable and beautiful.  Now that’s what I call Active by Design.

Do you know of any art that inspires you to walk and be active? Let me know in the comments below. 

Active by Design

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