WHAT IS PUBLIC ART?
Simply put public art is art in public spaces. The term “public art” may conjure images of historic bronze statues of a soldier on horseback in a park. Today, public art can take a wide range of forms, sizes, and scales—and can be temporary or permanent. It often interprets the history of the place, its people, and perhaps addresses a social or environmental issue. Public art can include murals, sculpture, memorials, integrated architectural or landscape architectural work, community art, digital new media, and even performances and festivals!
To see examples of public artworks, visit the Public Art Network Year in Review Online Database to search through a curated set of projects selected by professionals in the field.
WHY IS PUBLIC ART IMPORTANT TO COMMUNITIES?
Public art instills meaning—a greater sense of identity and understandings of where we live, work, and visit—creating memorable experiences for all. It humanizes the built environment, provides an intersection between past, present, and future, and can help communities thrive.
Public art has been found to provide a positive impact on communities by supporting economic growth and sustainability, attachment and cultural identity, artists as contributors, social cohesion and cultural understanding, and public health and belonging. “Why Public Art Matters (2018)” outlines talking points, examples, data and more on role public art can play in community.
Finding public art in your area or places you visit 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 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 arts organization. Public art may also be artist-driven, self-funded, and created outside of an institutional framework. Public art projects, especially when publicly 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.
Check out these frequently asked questions to better understand the public art process:
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 may 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.
CASE STUDY: A MONUMENT TO MAGGIE | RICHMOND, VA
In 2017, the city of Richmond, Virginia unveiled a monument to civil rights activist, entrepreneur and African American woman Maggie L. Walker. Known for its Monument Avenue which includes larger-than-life sculptures of Confederate soldiers such as General Robert E. Lee, efforts by community and political leaders led to the installation of the life-like statue of Walker, created by artist Toby Mendez, to help tell another part of the city’s history. After nearly 20 years, the public artwork was unveiled on July 17, 2017, in the Jackson Ward district where Walker’s house and most of her businesses were located. This video documents the development, installation, and celebration of “A Monument to Maggie”.