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These FAQ’s represent some of the most common questions about the field of public art from artists, administrators, and the many stakeholders involved with public art commissions.  They were sourced from over 15 years of member questions on the PAN Listserv, which has served artists and professionals since 2004 as a means to connect with peers in the field, discuss current issues, trends and best practices, and to share Calls for Artists, planning documents and other items developed by the field. The PAN Listserv and Listserv Archive are benefits of membership in Americans for the Arts, and the listserv continues to serve members on a daily basis.

Categories

  1. Program and Policy Management
  2. Research, Planning & Evaluation
  3. Project Management
  4. Marketing & Outreach
  5. Community Engagement & Advocacy
  6. Collection Management, Conservation & Maintenance
  7. Funding for Programs & Projects
  8. Contracts & Legal Issues

1) Program and Policy Management

Creating and managing a public art program requires important policy decisions, close cooperation with stakeholders, and a host of other challenges. This section addresses those needs with advice, best practices, and sample information that you can use to develop and sustain a public art program.

Increasingly, percent for art legislation and local ordinances are written to encourage or mandate that private development (above a certain monetary threshold) participate in percent for art laws.  The requirements of participation vary from location to location, with some programs mandating the creation of new artworks, some offering incentives in return for participation (like greater floor-area-ratios or increased building height limits), and others accepting an alternative contribution to a general fund used and administered by the local public art program.  In most cases, percent for art laws include some combination of these factors and are tailored to the needs of the community.

2) Research, Planning & Evaluation

The public art field has a diverse range of needs for research, planning and evaluation. This section provides information to further grow your programming and understand its impact.

One of the best resources for current information about the public art field is the Americans for the Arts’ Public Art Network listserv, which allows members to tap the knowledge of a great many public art professionals. The listserv archive, also accessible to members, contains years of previous questions and discussion, and can be an excellent starting point to develop a deeper knowledge of public art conventions, policies, and contemporary practice. Additionally, this website (and this FAQ section) contain information that addresses a host of public art questions and concerns, and can be an excellent starting point for learning more about the field or the specific needs of your program.

Public art programs often depend on multiple sources of funding that can change dramatically from year to year. Even when a public art program operates under the relative security of a percent for art mandate, the monies available may fluctuate and the capital building projects that provide those funds may change or disappear. This means that public art programs have, by necessity, become accustomed to being reactive and nimble in their long-term plans. Programs seldom plan beyond two years into the future, and it is important for them to prioritize their work and be prepared to complete commissions and maintenance on the basis of greatest need. It is also important for public art programs to work closely with partners in other departments in order to anticipate and prepare for budget changes, and to keep those partners informed when changes occur.  

Public art commissions vary a great deal from program to program and project to project, and it can be quite challenging (if not impossible) to establish a universal criteria for evaluation.  Evaluation is, however, an important part of gauging the efficacy of your program and the impact your work is having.  With that in mind, there are some tips that can help you evaluate your work.
  • Remember that part of the task of evaluation is setting clear expectations and goals for what constitutes a successful and unsuccessful commission.  Is the artwork meant to benefit an underserved community, reinforce some larger mayoral or city initiative, or engage particular types of artists for particular spans of time?  All of these goals will require different sorts of evaluation.  
  • It is also worth thinking about who is doing the evaluating.  Many programs have found it useful to seek feedback from partners in order to improve future commissions and working relationships.  Likewise, community feedback can be invaluable in adapting and bettering a commission (see the Community Engagement and Advocacy section for more on this topic). 
  • It is also important to evaluate along the way, while the commission is being completed (and while changes can still be made) and not just at the conclusion of a project. 
  • And finally, be sure to consider which facts of a commission can and cannot be measured, and plan accordingly.  It may be impossible to judge something as subjective as the impact an artwork has on new viewers, but it is quite possible to determine if that commission has increased participation from artists of color, for example.  
 

Consultants can provide a wide range of services, and are popular options for public art programs that operate with minimal staff or need an outside voice to offer advice about program direction, policies, or efficiency.  Often, public art consultants assist with program reviews and help shape and define the larger objectives of a public art program.  They can offer technical and practical expertise to accomplish those goals, and help create plans for the long-term success of a public art program.  Consultants can also be deployed to help educate other parts of a municipal government about the role and purpose of public art—another instance in which an outside voice may be able to have a greater impact.

3) Project Management

Public art project management requires a careful balance of artistic vision, community needs, and a firm grasp of an artwork’s physical requirements. This section provides resources for you to manage the people and the projects that are integral to a successful public artwork.

A selection panel is typically comprised of five to eight people drawn from a variety of professional backgrounds. Participants might include architects, landscape architects, design professionals, artists, arts professionals (curators, directors of arts organizations not affiliated with the project, etc.), municipal staff representatives, and community stakeholder(s). Programs may or may not include public art program staff. All panelists should have their roles clearly established and all application materials should be reviewed, considered, and evaluated according to established criteria. Typically, three to five qualified artists are selected and invited to interview for the proposed project, and public art programs conventionally cover the necessary travel expenses for short-listed artists.

A Call for Artists should include the following information: deadline, artist eligibility, selection criteria, project description, budget, project timeline, artwork goals, location of project (if determined at time of call), site history and/or a site description, application requirements, and details on the selection process. 

The Americans for the Arts Public Art Network (PAN) listserv is the premiere national distribution tool to notify public artists of opportunities. We encourage you to become a member and access this daily benefit. You can also distribute Calls for Artists through local arts newsletters and local arts agencies, state arts agencies, nonprofit arts organizations, local schools, social media, and online applications like CaFÉ, Slideroom and publicartist.org 

Calls for Artists are typically open to all artists to allow the widest inclusion of experienced and qualified professionals to create artwork. Sometimes a public art program may geographically restrict the Call, limiting eligibility to artists from the city, county, or state. Occasionally, those restrictions are made to ensure the funding benefits artists from a particular region. There is also precedent for programs instituting geographic and experience-based restrictions for low budget projects, which helps emerging artists obtain their first commission and thus improves their ability to compete for projects nationally.  
 
However, geographically restricting Calls can result in other programs doing the same, which has the less favorable effect of reducing competition and excellence across commissions. So, ideally, public art programs should open their Calls to a national talent pool unless there are compelling reasons for restricting it.
 
A Request for Proposals (RFP) asks artists to create and submit plans for the production of a desired public artwork.  Those plans are then evaluated by the commissioning organization, which makes their selection based upon the proposals.
 
RFPs can be an effective way to consider and evaluate the suitability of an artist when a limited number of artists are invited to participate in the selection process, the criteria for selection is explicit and uniform, and there is an honorarium paid to each artist for each submission.  Proposals should only be requested when the commissioning agency or organization is prepared to consider the proposal as a conceptual approach to the project and not the final design.  The commissioning agency should also ensure the artist retains copyright of all ideas presented as part of the proposal, even if those ideas are not ultimately selected for the commission. 
 
Members of Americans for the Arts have endorsed RFQs above RFPs and consider RFQ’s best practice, because RFQs have been more efficient and effective in producing high-quality public artworks and are generally seen as being more fair to artists.
 
Requests for Qualifications ask artists interested in a commission to submit information about their training, previous work, and other forms of evidence of their ability to create a public artwork. Requests for Proposals ask artists to develop and submit their ideas for a commission. Both options have advantages and disadvantages for artists and arts agencies, and both try to strike a balance between giving the artist a free hand and also ensuring that the artwork produced is desirable and appropriate to the public and commissioning agency. 
 

The artist fee is usually a line item in the overall project budget.  Artist fees are different for each project and vary by region, by the scope and complexity of the proposed artwork, by the project timeline, and by the process of implementation (which includes site visits, the community engagement process, and public meetings). Typically the artist specifies their fee within the proposed project budget or it is predetermined by the commissioning agency. Fees are typically gauged as a percentage of the project budget.

Part of the job of commissioning public art is narrowing down proposals to the best possible candidates for the commission.  Depending on the size of the commission and agency resources, this process may be conducted over a single or multiple rounds, all with the goal of narrowing the list of candidates.  Top candidates are often asked to provide additional information, more detailed proposals, or sit for interviews.  In order to narrow down entries, some local art agencies use a ranking system (1-5, for example).  Many consider the quality of past work by the artist, the artist’s ability to create a project that fit the commissions goals, including financial planning and organization, experience with previous public art commissions (particularly those with a comparable budget and scale), and the artist’s availability, among other factors.
 
You may also wish to consult the evaluation criteria used for contractors or bidders for other city services.
 

Once a public art program has solicited interest in a new commission, and then narrowed the list of suitable artists, then it is common to ask the finalists to devise and submit a more polished and detailed proposal. This may require travel (for research, for site visits, or for additional interviews), the creation of a model or maquette, and typically a considerable amount of time spent fleshing out the details of the commission. Therefore, it is best practice to compensate those artists who are asked to expand upon their initial proposals. The number of finalists and the amount they are awarded will vary depending on the size of the commission, but typically the top three to five artists are shortlisted and their awards are sufficient to realize a proposal commensurate with the goals of the commission.

Generally, no. An artist’s proposal is that individual’s intellectual property, and public art administrators, members of the selection committee, and other artists should not appropriate the work of others.

Many programs do not provide any feedback to artists who did not advance past the initial round of consideration. The large volume of candidates and the much smaller number of program staff members make this a logistical impossibility. However, it is common practice to provide some feedback to artists who made it past the initial round but did not receive the commission, particularly if those artists asked for criticism of their proposals.

The artist and commissioning organization should both sign a written agreement that addresses, at minimum, the scope of work, the budget, and the schedule. It is also important to clearly articulate the process by which any changes to the project will take place, and any changes should always be made in writing. You can find sample agreements and contracts under the “Resources” section of the Americans for the Arts website. 
 
The commissioning organization should also provide feedback to the artist from the selection panel and note, for example, what aspects of their work were particularly well received and what aspects may need further attention. 
 
If the artist is asked to complete a substantial redesign or create a new proposal, then the artist should be compensated for that work.
 
If major changes to a project result in a significant delay of payment (more than 30 days), then artists should be paid interest or otherwise compensated for an agency’s failure to comply with the payment schedule.  Americans for the Arts suggests this be written into artist contracts, as it is standard practice for other suppliers and contractors.
 

Some commissions are targeted at teams of artists and designers, who collaborate to produce a finished artwork.  In an artist and design team project, the artist is often able to influence the direction of the design to create elements that help enhance the building or landscape. The artist can reinforce the design program and add an additional creative voice to the project. An artist and design team works best when all participants, architects, landscape architects, engineers, artists, and others are selected at the same time, at the outset of a project, and are willing to work collaboratively.  Sometimes, it is not possible to include an artist at the outset of a construction project and when that occurs then the lead designer can identify potential sites that could be enhanced by the work of one or more artist.

Public art programs should create a project advisory committee for each new public art project.  Committee members should include key stakeholders like representatives of the city, site, and community.  It can be quite beneficial for a program to convene educational presentations or workshops on public art early in the commissioning process, and these presentations might include examples of artworks from other communities as well as information about the proposed project.  This helps educate and involve the affected community and it ensures that new commissions are responsive to their needs.  Visioning workshops, or “charrettes,” may also be useful.  The commissioning agency should establish clear roles for the committee and define how their input will be utilized in the design and planning of the project.

Some governments that sponsor public art programs require projects to meet minimum levels of accessibility, for instance requiring that all new commissions are visible during daylight hours for a certain number of days each week.  Such mandates are particularly salient when the artwork is installed inside of a building or space that may otherwise restrict public access.  While such requirements are more often the exception than the rule, those programs affected must be sure to clearly communicate visibility requirements to artists early in the commissioning process, and to select installation sites that will not pose added difficulties for accessibility.  Likewise, programs should consider likely future development in the artworks’ vicinity in order to ensure the work will remain visible and accessible for the foreseeable future.

Placing an artwork on a major thoroughfare can make it visually accessible to a great many people, but artists and planners must also ensure that it does not pose a dangerous distraction to drivers or other forms of traffic.  It is always advisable to review installation plans with public safety officials if you anticipate a site or artwork causing a distraction.  This should be done early in the commissioning process at a time when changes to the commission or installation can still be made.  Additionally, common sense precautions should be taken to ensure that the artwork does not pose any unnecessary risk to commuters or pedestrians, for example, properly lighting the artwork, avoiding highly reflective surfaces or any technological component that might present a distraction (flashing lights, for instance), and making sure the artwork cannot be easily mistaken for a road sign, pedestrian, or anything else that might cause distraction.

Additionally, public art programs installing work near major thoroughfares must take added precautions during the installation to ensure safety for all involved.

Community engagement takes patience and time, and the best results are often achieved by early and frequent communication with a community.  If engagement only comes at the very end of a public art commission, then it is unlikely to be as productive or meaningful to that community, and indeed can have the opposite effect, serving to highlight the differences between commission and community.
 
So, ideally, the community should be engaged early and often, and one way to ensure that happens is to include community members on the selection committee, and throughout the commissioning process.  Public art programs have also found success by involving the community in programming related to the new artwork commission, which has the benefit of educating and engaging a local populace.
 
It is also important to consider the location of engagement: try to meet your community where that community normally organizes (a local coffee shop, neighborhood space, or popular happy hour, for instance).  Meeting at such a location will encourage turnout and participation at meetings, and it demonstrates a vested interest in that community far better than asking community members to travel to a government building on the other side of the city.
 

4) Marketing & Outreach

Increasing public awareness of your work is both crucial and challenging for public art programs of all sizes. Use these tools to help tell the story of your program and collection. (Looking for more information? Check out the “Community Engagement & Advocacy” section.)

This will vary considerably from project to project and from program to program. For larger public art programs, programs with fixed administrative costs, or programs that employ public information officers, the cost of marketing may be entirely separate from individual project budgets and instead allocated on a case-by-case basis. For smaller projects or programs, the cost of marketing will need to be weighed against the many other expenses involved with a new commission. Marketing can be costly and it may be a better use of limited resources to focus on related but more targeted forms of engagement, like direct outreach to a specific community.  

While not free of cost, a public art program’s website and online presence can be a marvelous tool for informing the public of new commissions or newsworthy events.  Maintaining a clear and detailed website also ensures that those who are interested in learning more about a public artwork have an accessible and informed way of doing so.
 
Likewise, direct staff engagement and outreach can be effective means of marketing to specific audiences or communities, and the cost of doing so is typically already covered under pre-existing staff expenses.
 
Partnering with client organizations can be an effective way of marketing a new commission that requires spare, or no, funding from the public art agency itself.  If a new commission is being made as a result of a significant building, expansion, or renovation, then it would be wise to pair news of that work with news of the new artwork, and so “piggy back” onto the press coverage.  Here, again, it is important to cultivate good relationships with client organizations in order to maximize the impact of news coverage. 
 
Finally, one of the best ways to generate interest in a new commission is to generate press coverage for it, but press is neither guaranteed nor automatic.  If your public art program, or the municipality that houses your program, employs a public information officer, then that individual will likely be the best option for assisting with and advising on press coverage and contact.  Otherwise, as a general rule, the press is only likely to cover new artworks and events if they generate public interest and so exercising some strategy on how an artwork is pitched or unveiled can help improve the press coverage it receives. 
 
First, be sure that you have a well-defined audience or community in mind. It will be difficult to judge the efficacy of your marketing if the target is largely abstract or only half-considered. But even with a well-defined audience, it can be challenging to firmly determine the effect of marketing.
 
One of the best ways to ensure coverage is to do it directly with the people you wish to reach. Combining marketing with direct community engagement helps to inform that community and involve them with the new installation. It also offers the commissioning agency reassurance and confirmation of their outreach efforts. And, as with all forms of community outreach, working with community stakeholders, representatives, and organizers will help to ensure that your message is heard.
 
For larger and harder to define groups of people, like tourists, a city’s visitor’s bureau (or similar type of organization) can offer suggestions and advice on marketing, and may be able to directly assist with efforts to do so.  
 

5) Community Engagement & Advocacy

Working with your community is one of the most important parts of creating a successful public art program. The tools and resources below are here to help you form a deeper engagement with your community and provide information to help your community advocate for your program.

Public art programs should create a project advisory committee for each new public art project.  Committee members should include key stakeholders like representatives of the city, site, and community.  It can be quite beneficial for a program to convene educational presentations or workshops on public art early in the commissioning process, and these presentations might include examples of artworks from other communities as well as information about the proposed project.  This helps educate and involve the affected community and it ensures that new commissions are responsive to their needs.  Visioning workshops, or “charrettes,” may also be useful.  The commissioning agency should establish clear roles for the committee and define how their input will be utilized in the design and planning of the project.

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution for community engagement.  Each community has different needs and interests, and those must be taken into account when developing a plan for community engagement.  Similarly, it is important to be realistic about what the commission is and what it can do, and to adequately communicate those expectations to the affected community.
 
In order to foster community stakeholders, it is important to give the community the chance for meaningful and substantive input.  If a commission’s site, budget, or form are already settled, then a community may not feel as though their input has any real value.  For this reason, it is important to involve community members early in the commissioning process and, where possible, provide concrete and consequential opportunities for their voices to be heard and acted upon.
 
Finally, do not be afraid of reorienting, or even starting over, if a commission is not reaching the desired levels of engagement.  Sometimes the best option is a fresh start.
 
Community engagement takes patience and time, and the best results are often achieved by early and frequent communication with a community.  If engagement only comes at the very end of a public art commission, then it is unlikely to be as productive or meaningful to that community, and indeed can have the opposite effect, serving to highlight the differences between commission and community.
 
So, ideally, the community should be engaged early and often, and one way to ensure that happens is to include community members on the selection committee, and throughout the commissioning process.  Public art programs have also found success by involving the community in programming related to the new artwork commission, which has the benefit of educating and engaging a local populace.
 
It is also important to consider the location of engagement: try to meet your community where that community normally organizes (a local coffee shop, neighborhood space, or popular happy hour, for instance).  Meeting at such a location will encourage turnout and participation at meetings, and it demonstrates a vested interest in that community far better than asking community members to travel to a government building on the other side of the city.
 
There is no public art commission that will please every member of the public, and most public art programs will face some unfavorable responses to new installations in the course of their work. It is important to listen to all feedback, and if there is a reasonable manner of addressing the complaint, an organization should consider doing so. It is also important to remember that many installations initially face negative reactions, but that opinions can and do change over time.  
 
The artist Garth Evans has argued that some people will disagree with any changes to their local environment, be that a new trash can, advertisement, or artwork. (Garth Evans and Jon Wood, The Cardiff Tapes (1972) [Chicago: Soberscove Press, 2015], 83.)
 
Inclusive, transparent, and thoughtful commissioning processes, and efforts to educate the public about new installations, can help head off potential conflicts before they happen. But when conflicts do occur, be sure to listen, exercise patience, document the complaint, and be prepared to respond. If your local government has processes for addressing complaints, familiarize yourself with them.  And remember, art is often designed to provoke a reaction, and sometimes that reaction is negative no matter the best intentions of the artist or commissioning organization.
 

6) Collection Management, Conservation & Maintenance

Unlike art in a museum, public art often exists in challenging environs with many variables to appropriate and effective care. Thus, its conservation and maintenance should be a top priority for any public art program. The information below is here to help you maintain and conserve your collection and provide support to manage documentation.

Just as we maintain our streets, parks, and buildings, public art cannot remain in its original condition without maintenance.  A plan is required for all collections, no matter the size, and many programs require their artists to submit guidelines on the upkeep, maintenance, and material details of their work before the commission is completed.  Some programs extend that mandate to include further details from the artist about changes to an artwork’s appearance or placement, or other anticipated needs many years after the artwork is completed.  
 
The artist should also be responsible for the integrity of materials and fabrication (as specified in the project contract) for one year after installation.  A plan should be established that allows for an artwork to be removed if it has been damaged beyond repair or if it endangers public safety. 
 

The American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) maintains a list of qualified, local conservators.  Their website includes a “Find a Conservator” guide that can help you narrow down the right person for your conservation needs.

The best protection is preventative.  Make sure that artwork proposals take into account landscaping needs well before a commission is completed.  If a sculpture is surrounded by grass, then be sure that its base is protected from potential damage by weed whacking or mowing—this may mean placing it on a concrete pad, protecting it with rubber mulch (or a similar substance), or speaking to your maintenance professionals about proper precautions when working near the artwork.
 
If the artwork is already installed, then it may be necessary to add a “mow strip” or buffer that ensures space between the artwork and grass.
 

Most public art programs that accept donations have a review process in place to evaluate proposed gifts. Donations may be given freely, but they can still require the expenditure of significant funds and program resources, and so it behooves public art programs to be cautious and thoughtful when accepting them. Like other commissions, proposed donations should undergo a similar review and approval process. If accepted, then the donor and program should agree on the terms of the donation, which might consider insurance, maintenance costs, installation locations, signage, rights of reproduction, and rights to deaccession. If the donation is a significant one, then it is common to ask the donor to make some financial allowance for the work’s long-term conservation needs.

The Getty Conservation Institute maintains a robust and updated collection of resources on a variety issues facing the fine art conservation field. It can be a good starting point if your goal is to better your conservation knowledge or prepare for the treatment of a specific artwork.  
 
Generally, when considering new materials it behooves the artist to thoroughly research the long-term stability of the material and ensure that it is suitable to prolonged outdoor display. This is particularly important for artworks that will be installed in highly trafficked areas or in communities with extreme weather concerns. If the artist or administrator has any concerns about the long-term suitability of a material, fabricating technique, or anchoring strategy, those concerns should be raised immediately, and may require consultation with a manufacturer or trained fine art conservator.
 

Tree removal is a common municipal responsibility, and a number of public art programs have seized on the act as an opportunity to commission public artworks. Hurricanes, storms, or other natural catastrophes like disease or Emerald Ash Borer beetles can produce large amounts of dead trees in short amounts of time. Programs have successfully used these leftover trees to commission sculptures or build playgrounds; however, before doing so, it is very important to consult with arborists to ensure that any plans for using dead trees does not risk further contamination. Likewise, programs should be aware that wood, even when treated with a protective coating, will not last as long as other materials in an outdoor environment. Those objects should receive regular inspections to confirm their material integrity and ensure the safety of viewers.

Public art can help foster a sense of community and local pride, and is regularly used as a revitalizing agent, all of which may help reduce overall levels of crime and graffiti. However, it can also be a target for taggers or others wishing to mar public spaces. With that in mind, public art programs should consider the potential for damage to an artwork and plan accordingly. This may result in “hardening” a target by making it less physically accessible, using anti-graffiti coatings, or encouraging artists to use materials that are naturally resistant to common graffiti tools, like paint markers and spray cans. Additionally, public art programs have found it beneficial to develop relationships with nearby businesses, which can alert them to any damage to an artwork quickly after it has occurred and so facilitate a speedy cleanup effort. Graffiti often begets graffiti (the “Broken Windows” theory), and so quickly addressing damage can help discourage further damage. Likewise, common sense precautions like adequate lighting, security cameras, and enlisting the help of public or private security officials can help address persistent sources of damage, should that be an ongoing concern.

As public art collections have grown in size, so too has the need to asses the number, condition, and value of the objects in those collections. Public artwork is seldom sold or transferred, and has limited re-sale potential due to legal restrictions, the popularity of site-specific commissions, and commonly accepted best practices for the field.  (Nevertheless, deaccessioning remains an important collections management tool—see Question 6.5 for more). Public art programs, however, can benefit from the services of a fine art appraiser in order to properly estimate insurance needs (such as an artwork’s replacement cost) or as a tool to help evaluate or promote a program’s commissioning history. Often, appraising a collection of public art is the first step toward advocating for better maintenance and conservation practices. Appraisals can demonstrate the value held in a public art collection, and the steep cost of repairing damage (or replacing) older artworks. This is particularly important in communities that regularly face catastrophic weather events, which could threaten large numbers of public artworks at once.
 
Like conservation services, an initial survey of a collection is likely to represent a significant expenditure, and for that reason comprehensive collection reviews are typically only completed by larger public art programs. Once an initial survey has been completed, then future updates can be made for modest sums.
 

7) Funding for Programs & Projects

Public art programs and individual projects depend upon a variety of public and private funding sources. Administrators and artists must learn how to manage diverse resources in order to create and sustain strong programs. Below are tools, resources, and advice for the funding and support of public art programs and projects.

The artist fee is usually a line item in the overall project budget.  Artist fees are different for each project and vary by region, by the scope and complexity of the proposed artwork, by the project timeline, and by the process of implementation (which includes site visits, the community engagement process, and public meetings). Typically the artist specifies their fee within the proposed project budget or it is predetermined by the commissioning agency. Fees are typically gauged as a percentage of the project budget.

Even the most successful commission can face unplanned cost overruns, and public art programs account for this in various ways. Some programs set aside or contingency fund 5, 10, or 15% of a project’s budget in order to address unplanned expenses. Other programs agree to absorb up to 5% of cost overruns, but then hold the artist responsible for covering anything beyond that. In either case, be sure to make yourself familiar with the project contract so that you and all other participants are aware of your program’s procedure for handling added expenses.

Generally, artists will be required to submit invoices at various stages of the production process, which are then paid out according to the contract and payment schedule.
 
Artists should discuss this topic with the commissioning agency before accepting a commission, and should be aware that government-issued payments may require added time to process.  Clear communication, expectations, and transparency are essential for a successful commission, and particularly so when discussing payment.
 

Yes.  If an organization asks an artist to spend time and resources developing a proposal, then they should plan to compensate the artist for that work.  

Yes, once an artist has been advanced to a short-list and invited to interview, then it is convention to compensate the artist for travel expenses.  These details should be included in the initial Call for Artists.  

Public art programs usually only begin to insure artworks after they have been completed and installed, and for that reason, some artists carry their own insurance while producing an artwork.  Indeed, some programs require artists to show that they hold commercial liability for their work during creation and installation.  However, since only licensed professionals are able to obtain professional liability insurance, that requirement should be waived for artists who are not licensed.  If an artist makes use of licensed subcontractors, then project agreements may require those contractors to hold professional liability insurance. 

This varies considerably by program and by location.  Most commonly, states or art agencies self-insure the work they produce (many are required to do so by their percent for art law).  Some states transfer insurance duties to the owners of the artworks they produce, which are typically other city agencies or private companies.  Occasionally, additional insurance funding may be sought out to protect specific collections or high-value objects.

Artist warranties should last no longer than two years, and artists should be required to pass along any manufacturing warranties they received for individual components of an artwork. (If, for example, an artwork uses an electronic component, then the artist should pass along any manufacturer warranty that covers that product.)

Performance bonds are intended to guarantee the satisfactory completion of work.  If a contractor is unable to finish a project, then a performance bond ensures that the work will be finished, usually by hiring a third party to complete any missing or unsatisfactory work.  These bonds are commonly used in the construction industry and many cities’ public works departments require city contractors to hold them.
 
However, performance bonds have little applicability to the commissioning of fine art.  For one, most commissions can only be completed by the artist who made the initial proposal, making the hiring of a third-party a nonstarter.  More over, most performance bonds are prohibitively expensive for individual artists, and the desired objective (ensuring a satisfactory final project) is better achieved through alternative actions, like withholding final payment on a contract.  
 

8) Contracts & Legal Issues

Understanding the legal issues and challenges facing the public art field is a necessity of running or participating in a success public art program. This section provides overview information, tools, and resources to help you get up-to-speed with the field’s most pressing contractual and legal concerns. (The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.)

The artist retains all rights under the Copyright Act of 1976 (17 USC Section 101) as the sole author of the work for the duration of the copyright. The duration of copyright in the United States is currently the life of the author, plus 70 years. 
 
Title to the artwork passes to the client or commissioning agency/organization upon their written acceptance of and payment for the work, but copyright belongs to and remains with the artist. In other words, although the client may “own” the work of art, the artist who created the work owns the copyright, including all ways in which that artwork is represented (photos, video, ads, logos, branding), other than in situ (on-site documentation photos). Artists may wish to register their copyright with the federal government. For more information on copyright, refer to Public Art Network’s Best Practices Guidelines.
 

“Artists should retain copyright to their Artwork. However, Artists should expect to grant license to the contracting agency or ultimate owner for reasonable use of images of the Artwork for publicity, educational, and reasonable promotional purposes upon which the parties agree.” 
(As stated in Best Practices #24)

“The Visual Artist Rights Act of 1990 was created to give artists the right to be credited as the author and to prevent destruction or alteration of their work. Some states now have their own artists’ rights legislation. Artists recognize that public sites sometimes change uses and that the protection of a public artwork is different than that in a museum setting. At the same time, the artist’s reputation is based on that work and its integrity.” (As stated on page 3 of “Open Letter to Public Art Administrators”)

One of the results of the Visual Artist Rights Act has been the establishment of a more formal and prolonged relationship between the artist and the commissioning agency.  This relationship is typically further enumerated in the contract for the commission.  
 
When there is an issue with an artwork, such as damage or changes to its site or context, then the owner of that artwork should communicate directly with the artist.  This benefits the owner and the artist, both of whom have a vested interest in the wellbeing of the artwork.  As a matter of best practices, if an artwork needs to be removed, then the artist should be given the first right to regain ownership, remove the artwork, or disclaim authorship, even if VARA rights have previously been waived.
 

There is great variety in how communities have used their local laws to encourage or mandate the creation of public art as part of private developments.  The most comprehensive effort to track that work can be found at: