Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Developing a Public Art/Design Plan or Project
What is Public Art/Design?
A simple definition of public art/design is, "an artwork or element of design that is either temporarily or permanently located in a public space." Yet, the word "public" indicates community involvement, so public art/design also seeks to create and inspire relationships and communication. Perhaps public art can best be defined as "a form of collective community expression that enhances the built or natural environment."
Public art is not just one thing. Both the form and role of public art varies from community to community depending on demographics, culture, social climate, landscape, architecture and urban planning. Public art is often as much about urban design or social issues as it is about art.
Why Public Art/Design?
The vitality of a community is directly linked to the quality of its built and natural environments and to a positive community identity. Public art and design elements that define public space enhance the visual quality of the community by providing color and character. Imagine ordinary places and objects transformed into something extraordinary by the hand of an artist. Imagine a bench or bus stop that is unique, colorful and expressive of the neighborhood in which it is located. Imagine manhole covers, light fixtures or tree guards that are both functional yet have a character of their own. Imagine that, and you have an idea of how public art can enhance your community.
Public art/design goals should be related to larger community planning goals. Below are sample goals from public art programs. Well defined goals for your public art/design project or program should be a key element any public art/design planning process.
- contribute to the visual character and texture of the community
- foster a community's sense of spirit and pride
- clarify neighborhood identity/reflect diversity of the city
- create more congenial and social public spaces
- encourage public interaction with governmental processes
- utilize a design collaborative to creatively solve problems with vehicular/pedestrian traffic flow, seating, gathering or other infrastructure elements
- commemorate or celebrate history or cultural heritage
- provide opportunities for regional artists
- create a symbol for the city
What form does Public Art/Design take?
- The form that public art can take is as open as the definitions of "art" itself. Public art may:
- be placed inside or outside
- be commemorative
- incorporate landscape elements
- be representational or abstract
- be a single work or a whole plaza or park
- be integrated with architecture or infrastructure
- be educational
- be functional, symbolic or just decorative
- employ technology (light, sound, motion)
- be interactive
- not be visual (poetry on buses, community history radio programs).
A slide presentation on the infinite variety of public art/design projects is available through the North Carolina Arts Council's Office of Public Art & Community Design
How do we determine what the best site will be for Public Art?
The placement of public art within your community should be well thought out. Thoughts about placement should begin with an assessment of current community design and development trends and what implications they pose for the proposed public art/design program or project. Factors to consider are:
- how people relate to and use downtown and different neighborhoods
- what are the community's aspirations or vision for itself
- what are the current and planned pedestrian/vehicular patterns
- what are the existing and planned neighborhood corridors and linkages within the community (malls, walkways, buildings, transportation hubs, commercial areas, etc.
- what communications networks exist (commercial, cultural, social)
- potential socio/political and logistical realities of the site
How do we get started with a Public Art/Design project or program?
Start by remembering the word "public" in public art. Establish a structure that identifies, defines and invests assorted groups in the community. These may include, but are not limited to:
- municipal leadership
- parks and recreation managers
- appearance, historical landmark and preservation staff or volunteers
- economic development/revitalization people
- key individuals from community cultural agencies
- key business leaders
- ethnic community(s) leaders
- local design professionals, architects, artists
- media representatives
- church leaders
- civic/community group representatives
- other specific stake holders like nearby property owners
This structure will be the basis for planning group meetings and public hearings. Ideas, thoughts, benefits, and potential concerns derived from dialogue with these stakeholders will help define or refine your goals and create necessary community awareness and enthusiasm. A good public art consultantcan assist in helping to define goals and develop guidelines while bringing the community together for decision-making.
Are there any successful models to draw upon as we embark on developing a Public Art/Design project or program?
There are over 350 formal public art programs in the United States. There are many models, master plans, case studies, policies, guidelines and project documents from which to derive information and guidance.
The North Carolina Arts Council can provide you with copies of these types of documents.
Plans? Policies? Documents? Yikes! sounds like a lot of administrative actions must be taken. So what are these various administrative items that need to be considered and accomplished?
As with any public project, a successful public art/design project or program involves planning and developing a vision, goals, policies, guidelines and clear statements of responsibility for how the goals are to be accomplished. A non-inclusive list of administrative actions necessary, based on the scope of your project or program, might include:
- developing a public art/design board or task force to oversee all elements of the process. Such a task force should be established through local government ordinance. This board will ultimately be responsible for the completion of the plan or project. A committee structure within this core group may be established based on individual program needs. Recommended committees might include:
- an executive or planning committee whose responsibility it is to set goals and establish policies and guidelines for the overall public art/design program.
- a stewardship committee whose responsibility it is to raise funds for the program/project and to make sure the public art is preserved once it is sited
- a community awareness committee whose responsibility it is to inform and involve the public at all phases of the project. A separate education committee may be established to develop non-P.R. related programs and activities
- a project committee whose responsibility it is to oversee specifics of each individual project or to oversee a demonstration project
- drafting of policies and procedures for the program or project. Such guidelines should consider at a minimum, the following issues.
- relationship of the program or project to different city/county administrative departments
- standards/eligibility and ineligibility of projects
- program management including administration, maintenance and conservation
- how artist(s) or the design team will be selected
- a thoughtful use of local and national artists with relevant public art skills
- contractual arrangements with all parties involved
- protocol to mitigate potential situations that may arise
- the experimental nature of the arts and design fields
- timeline for implementation
- implementing a marketing and public relations program to solicit community input and to keep the community informed of all phases of the project.
- determining what community human resources are available (artists, designers, architects etc.) and developing a mechanism to best involve them in the project or program
- identifying all available and potential financial resources and developing fund raising strategies for achieving project goals
Funding seems to be a concern. What are some funding options?
All your planning is for naught if plans for funding your project are not in place. The most common ways public art projects are funded are:
- Percent for Art (PFA) - A percentage of Capital Improvement Project Budgets (normally ½ to 1%) are set aside for public art.
- Private Development Initiatives (PDI's) -Initiatives are offered to private developers to include public art in their development plans. These allocations could be in the form of Public Artwork Dedication Fees (PAPD's), meaning that the developers include actual artworks in their development projects or in the form of Payment in Lieu (PIL), and meaning that the developers provide the Public Art Partnership with a dollar amount equally to the prescribed percentage.
- Leverage Dollar Contributions (LCD's) - This involves the government setting aside money and private organizations matching it.
- Infrastructure Elements Gift Program - Private contributors fund specific projects in exchange for having their name attached to that project.
- Private/Corporate purchase - projects are privately commissioned for placement on privately owned, public accessible spaces.
- Grants - Grants from federal and state agencies and certain foundations are available for public art and community design projects. The dollar levels available from these grants can do no more then help leverage other funds. Most grants require a 1 to 1 match.
- In-kind - In-kind donations of materials, labor and volunteer support help defray costs and can be cited as matching funds when applying for grants.
There are variations on the above models. Like all fundraising, the methods can be most imaginative.
The information shared here is only minimally inclusive of what is required for a successful public art program or project.
Visit our Artworks for State Buildings page for information about 61 public art/design projects created around the state as part of North Carolina's Artworks for State Buildings Percent for Art Program.