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.