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 Public Art Tools and Resources.

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.
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Topic Page News Tabs

News
Dec 20, 2017

Join us on Facebook the last Tuesday of each month from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern Time) for one of our theme-based Public Art Showcase events. These are your opportunity to share the public artworks in your neighborhoods, towns, cities, or wherever!

Dec 11, 2017

A Monument to Maggie tells the story of the development and unveiling of a monument to civil rights hero Maggie L. Walker, which was unveiled after nearly 20 years of efforts led by community and political leaders to help tell another part of Richmond's history.

Aug 18, 2017

Americans for the Arts releases a statement about the complex and important impact of public art, including monuments to the Confederacy, on the history and pride of diverse communities, and encourages ongoing civic dialogue around the removal and replacement of these monuments.

News
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.

Oct 05, 2016

CODAworx, the hub of the commissioned art economy, announces the winners of the fourth annual CODAawards: Collaboration of Design + Art. The CODAawards recognize collaborations that result in outstanding projects that successfully integrate commissioned art into interior, architectural, or public spaces.

Sep 01, 2016

Murals, sculptures and even sound scores adorn our cities, exposing and exploring our histories and cultures.

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May 29, 2018

As the gateway to a city, airports are the first and last place that air travelers experience; they are a doorway for passengers and visitors alike. An airport has a broad range of functions, but its visual impact can run the gamut from a blank canvas to a celebration of sights and sounds....

Apr 27, 2018
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The discourse of what public art can be is ever expanding. With the accessibility of new creative tools and platforms to present new forms of public art, artists and presenters are pushing existing boundaries and creating new ones for what public art can be...

Feb 20, 2018

Americans for the Arts has partnered with the American Planning Association, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Area Planning Council and The Townscape Institute, on a National Endowment for the Arts funded project to develop a suite of curated resources to assist planners in...

Support Public Art
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Traveling Man Waiting on a TrainBrad Oldham

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