Public Art Tip Sheet from the Acadiana Arts Council
When creating a piece of artwork that will be permanently installed at a site, here are some items the commissioning agency and the artist should consider to ensure a successful project.
- Evaluate the quality of the artistís work. Remember that you need to submit a sample of the artistís work along with your grant application.
- If applicable, does the artist have experience creating large-scale artwork?
- Does the artist work with materials that are suitable for a durable and structurally sound piece of art?
- Public artwork is usually located outdoors and therefore the environment of the site needs to be considered. Does the site flood? If there are trees nearby, can tree roots possible undermine the artwork, and will the trees shed leaves or sap on the artwork? Do birds tend to congregate nearby?
- Can the artwork be easily seen? Is the site accessible?
- Outdoor locations may also pose security problems. Is the site vulnerable to vandalism?
- Who owns the site? For example, if a mural is painted on a private building, what happens if the site is sold? In this case, you would need to have plans for retaining the image regardless of future ownership of the building.
- Since the artwork will be installed in a public and therefore visible and accessible space, the community should be involved in the design process to make sure the artwork will be accepted. One way to encourage public acceptance of the piece is by including representatives or residents of the area where the artwork will be installed in the planning process.
- Is the design appropriate for the community and the site? A small piece of sculpture might be dwarfed by a large site, for example, or a stark contemporary piece of artwork may be jarring in a traditional setting.
- The artist should be aware of safety concerns: is there a possibility that people could hurt themselves on the sculpture? For example, glass components might have sharp edges or fragile projections that could break off.
- Is the artwork meant to be touched or climbed on? If so, the artwork must be very safe for interaction with people. If not, some kind of barrier, like a surrounding fountain or railing, should be included in the design to discourage people from touching the piece.
- Will the artwork need to be supported under the ground?
- Because the piece is intended to be permanent, the materials chosen for the piece must be extremely durable. Bronze, stone, concrete, and stainless steel are commonly used for sculpture, and sealers are used to protect painted surfaces.
- Can the piece be easily vandalized? Smooth materials may be more vulnerable to spray paint than rough surfaces.
- Once the piece is installed, who will be responsible for maintaining it? Over time, weather will cause the artwork to deteriorate, but regular maintenance can prevent serious damage.
- Some maintenance (cleaning, re-painting, etc.) can be costly Ė who will be responsible for paying for it?
- The artist should provide instructions for maintaining the piece. For example, if the piece is a mural, the paint colors will need to be specified so that re-painted areas will match the original paint.
- Artwork with water elements (like fountains), electrical components, and painted surfaces will require more maintenance.
- There should be a contract between the artist and the commissioning agency specifying the nature of the artwork, a timeline for creating and installing the piece, the payment schedule, liability, insurance, and maintenance responsibilities.
- If public artwork is removed from public view, will the commissioning agency or the artist keep the piece?
- Will the artwork be displayed on a platform?
- Will there be landscaping around the artwork? If so, the landscaping should be compatible with the artwork.
- How will the artwork be labeled? People like to know who created the piece and why it was created.
- Will be the sculpture be lit at night? Lights tend to discourage vandalism, but will also attract insects and will need to be maintained.
- Will there be public walkways and benches around the artwork? Making the surrounding area comfortable will encourage people to visit the artwork.
Public Art Project Ideas:
Mosaics, murals, creative landscaping, banners, interactive play sculptures, neon light installations and environmental sculpture are all possibilities for public art. Public art can be functional as well as beautiful or interesting: consider artist-designed benches, trash containers, retaining walls, fences and light posts.
(Editorís note: This tip sheet originally appeared in a slightly different format.)