Frequently Asked Questions - Public Art Network

A Call for Artist 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 description, application requirements, selection process. Check out this sample Call for Artists as well as Methods of Artist Selection.

The Americans for the Arts Public Art Network (PAN) listserv is the national distribution tool to notify public artists of opportunities. We encourage you to become a member and access this benefit daily. You can also distribute Calls for Artists through local arts newsletters and local arts agencies, state arts agencies, nonprofit arts organizations, as well as online posting boards.

Calls for Artists for public art projects are typically open to all artists to allow the widest inclusion of experienced and qualified artists to create the work. Sometimes a public art program may geographically restrict the Call, limiting eligibility to artists from the city, county, or state. Geographically restricting Calls in one jurisdiction may result in other programs restricting artists and overall, reducing competition and excellence. There is precedent for programs instituting geographic and project experience restrictions for low budget projects. In this case, emerging artists get a chance at obtaining their first commission, thus developing and expanding their ability to compete for projects nationally.

Request for Proposals (RFP) can be an effective way to consider and evaluate the appropriateness of an artist when a limited number of artists are invited to participate in a 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/organization is prepared to consider the proposal as a conceptual approach to the project and not the final design. The commissioning agency upholds that all ideas presented for the project, including copyright, (link to copyright question) belong to the artist.

A Request for Qualifications (RFQ) can be an effective and efficient method to issue a Call for Artists. RFQs require minimal expenditures of time and money from artists. RFQs primarily rely upon examples of an artist’s previous work and typically include an artist’s vita, selected references, and a statement of interest about the project. When RFQs are written thoughtfully and applicants’ materials are subsequently reviewed, considered, and evaluated by arts professionals and the commissioning organization, a short-list of qualified artists to interview for a proposed project may be easily accomplished. The outcome of this process creates opportunities for in-person interviews or offering a reasonable fee to compensate development of conceptual ideas for the project.

The RFQ process does not anticipate that artists prepare or present specific ideas based on limited information provided in the Call; rather, conceptual artistic proposals for the project are developed only after learning more about the project through site visits and interactions with project personnel and constituent interests. It is expected that short-listed artists be compensated for travel expenses when invited to interview. Most artists and many curators/arts administrators prefer RFQs for public sector commissions.

Applicants’ materials are reviewed, considered, and evaluated according to established criteria. A selection panel typically is comprised of five to eight people and includes architects, landscape architects, and design professionals; artists and arts professionals such as curators, directors of arts organizations not affiliated with the project; municipal staff representatives; and community stakeholder(s). Some programs may or may not include public art program staff. All panelists should have clear roles established. Typically three to five qualified artists are selected and invited to interview for the proposed project.  It is expected that short-listed artists be compensated for travel expenses when invited to interview.

The artist fee is a line-item within 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 from design through fabrication and installation, as well as by the process of implementation including site visits, the community engagement process, and art public meetings. Typically the artist specifies their fee within the proposed project budget or it is predetermined by the commissioning agency. Fees are typically a percentage of the project budget.

Public art commissioning programs should create a project advisory committee for each public art project. Committee members include key stakeholders including representatives of the city, site, and community. It is imperative to convene education presentations or workshops on public art including examples from artworks from other communities as well as information about the proposed project. Visioning workshops, also known as charrettes, are encouraged as well. 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.

In an artist and team project, the artist is often able to influence the direction of the design to create elements that help enhance the building or the landscape. The artist can reinforce the design program and add an additional creative voice to the project. An artist and design team work best when all participants, architects, landscape architects, engineers, artists, and others are selected at the same time, at the outset of a project, and we willing to work collaboratively. Sometimes, it is not possible to include an artist at the outset of a construction project. Here, the lead designer identifies opportunities for built elements for the architecture or landscape that might be enhanced by the work of one or more artists.

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 even if the collection is only one public artwork. At the time the artwork title is transferred to the owner of the artwork, the artist should submit guidelines on upkeep and maintenance pertinent to the specific materials used to create the work. The artist should also be responsible for a period of one year from installation for the integrity of the materials and fabrication techniques. A plan should also be established that allows for artwork to be removed if it has been damaged beyond repair and/or endangers public safety. For more on conservation, including qualified conservators who advise and conserve artworks, visit the American Institute for Conservation website (AIC).

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; 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 to the work of art, including all ways in which the work 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 PAN’s Best Practices Guidelines.