Public art is often site-specific, meaning it is created in response to the place and community in which it resides. It often interprets the history of the place, its people, and perhaps addresses a social or environmental issue. The work may be created in collaboration with the community, reflecting the ideas and values of those for whom it’s created.

Being public, the art is free and accessible to everyone. Public art creates a heightened awareness in the viewer of the site of the people and the broader context of what’s around them. Today, viewers may capture a photo of the public art on their smartphone and share the work and the experience with others, extending the reach of public art beyond the site.

Whatever the form, public art instills meaning—a greater sense of identity and understandings of where we live, work, and visit—creating memorable experiences for all.

For more information on creating, finding, and supporting public art, please refer to the Public Art Resource Center.

Photos: Synchronicity of Color by Margo Sawyer
Location: Discovery Green, Houston Texas
Project of Houston Arts Alliance Civic Art + Design, 2009

How is public art developed and created?

Public art is typically developed and managed by a municipal agency such as a local arts agency or private entity such as a nonprofit art organization. Public art may also be artist-driven, self-funded, and created outside of an institutional framework. Public art projects, especially when publically funded, are typically part of development or construction projects that are part of a larger urban development or cultural plan.

Public agencies that may implement public art include City Planning, Parks and Recreation, and Economic Development departments. The commissioning entity distributes a request for proposals or a request for qualifications for a designated project and selects an artist or team of artists to implement the proposed work. Frequently, the selected artist(s) works with a design team of interdisciplinary professionals including public art administrators, planners, architects, landscape architects, and engineers. The most successful public art projects involve both the artist and the community at the onset of the project.

How can I find public art in my community and other places I visit?

Public art can easily be found by searching online. Many public art programs have created smartphone apps or online digital maps and databases of their collection. Many collections can be searched by city and state on websites including Public Art Archive and CultureNow. Public art programs and local arts agencies can be found in our Arts Services Directory.

How can I get public art approved for my community? Where do I start?

The design for a proposed public artwork is typically approved by city’s art commission or art council. Appointed members to an arts commission typically include: artists, visual art and public art professionals, designers, landscape architects, and planners. Following the art commission approval of the proposed public art design, the permit to build the public art work typically goes through a city’s building and zoning/permitting department. If the public artwork is temporary, the project is often categorized as an event and goes through a city’s event permitting department.

How is public art funded?

Public art is typically funded through the government, but increasingly through public-private partnerships as well. Percent for Art is an ordinance or policy specifying that a percentage of a city’s capital improvement project funds (CIP) are set aside for the commission, purchase, fabrication, and installation of public artwork. Percent for Art ordinances typically designate around 1 percent of the total construction or renovation budget. Percent for Art projects are typically incorporated on a city-owned site such as civic center, library, plaza, or park.

Private developers are increasingly incorporating and funding public art in private development projects. These public art projects may be funded through grants or loans to a program. Americans for the Arts does not fund public art.

How are artists identified and selected to create a public artwork?

Public art programs commissioning public art projects either directly contact an artist(s) or use an open or limited competition process. The most common is an open competition Call for Artists giving artists the information they need to apply to be considered for a project. Call for artists can be one of two types: Request for Qualifications (RFQ) or Request for Proposals (RFP). For more on public art funding, check out our Public Art Network FAQs.

 

Year in Review
The Public Art Network’s Year in Review is the only national
program that specifically
recognizes public art projects.

Topic Page News Tabs

News
Oct 29, 2018

Americans for the Arts wants our members to elect art professionals from the field to serve on one of four network advisory councils: Arts Education, Emerging Leaders, Private Sector, and Public Art. Voting closes November 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm (ET).

Oct 16, 2018

You asked, and we listened: Our online Arts Services Directory has expanded to include searchable, topic-driven sub-directories. The new and improved directories will allow you to quickly find all types of arts organizations throughout the United States, as well as narrow your search to specific interest areas.

Oct 09, 2018

In the age of Instagram, Serena Williams, Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, and female street artists designed interactive murals to shed light on the often overlooked issue of domestic abuse.

News
Oct 18, 2018

Public Art Bootcamp, the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture’s award program, is the subject of the publication Capacity Building for Racial Equity in Public Art, which illustrates how public art administrators can shift the field to be more inclusive and effect change by intentionally serving artists from under-represented and under-invested communities. 

Jul 05, 2018

On February 20, 2017, a 51-year-old man named Thomas Leeper set off to complete a public art-centric passion project: covering every linear mile of Detroit on bike, while also photographing and geo-tagging every piece of public art or graffiti he encountered along the way. Almost a year and a half later, Leeper is about at the halfway point, having biked through 2,200 of the 4,000 linear miles of the Detroit streets.

Jun 05, 2018

The artist-run American nonprofit For Freedoms has announced the launch of “The 50 State Initiative,” a nonpartisan political and artistic campaign that will utilize public art to spark political engagement. Spanning the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, the campaign’s focal point is the planned installation of political billboards in all 50 states, plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico.

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Support Public Art
Does your town have a vibrant public art scene? How can you help bring public art to your community?
Traveling Man Waiting on a TrainBrad Oldham

Start a percent for art program in your community? Every new building project will be required to allocate a percent of its building budget to public art display.

Contact your Mayor or Governor and ask for more public art.  

We have resources to help you advocate with your elected officials.  Make a donation.  Your dollars help us get more visbility for public art projects.