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A checklist for success (and resources to help along the way)


1. Gut check.

Ask yourself - Why public art? Who is the project for? How will they interact with the piece?

2. Check the public art plan.

Contact your city planner, local arts, council, or community development leaders to learn more about an existing public art plan. If you’re hoping to have a mural in a specific place, there may already be a process to request it.

Not every city has a public art plan. Sometimes public art is mentioned in comprehensive plans, master plans, or quality of life plans. If your community decides a public art plan or policy is necessary, here are some examples that could be used as a template. Be sure to tailor the plan to your own community’s goals and capacity.

Public art means teamwork.

If you thought you would be able to do this yourself, think again. Even if you could pull off the design, funding, installation and maintenance yourself, would it still be public art? A team with diverse skills, connections, and perspectives will give you the best success.

Before you get too far, ask around. Is someone else already doing this here (city, local arts agency, local artist, community development corporation)? How can you support what’s already happening?

Public art administrator” is definitely a thing. Maybe you’re a public art commission. But even roles with “public art” in the name rely on close partnerships with neighbors, artists, designers, fabricators, public works, public safety, etc. You may know who needs to be involved in this process already, but be prepared to add new or different teammates based on what you learn from the community engagement process.

Every public art project needs a champion. It does not matter what their qualifications are, this person keeps dreaming when the door slams in their face. They are a stronghold for the rest of the team and a jolt of energy when everyone else is tired. Don’t know who your project’s champion is? Maybe you should step up to the plate.

Engage the community.

If you don’t already know who your partners, allies or team members are, start knocking on doors. You need to know the people who will love, hate, ignore or be confused by the artwork. Why? The best public art is not for the community, but with the community.

When you engage the community by asking for their stories, opinions, creativity, or assistance, they will begin to see themselves in the piece. When you’ve won the trust and excitement of the people who interact with your artwork, they will be your advocates. They will bring you the tools when your equipment breaks down. They will chase off vandals. They are invited to take ownership in this public art piece – and maybe even be more civically engaged as a result.

When the IAC talks about community engagement, we mean a process of building mutually beneficial, two way relationships with the people who care (or have the potential to care) about your work.

Invite the artist to be part of the community engagement process, if possible. If not, make sure you communicate what you’ve learned to the artist.

There are lots of formal ways to do community engagement. The Collective Impact Forum, Environmental Protection Agency, and Creative Community Builders, and some artists have all produced helpful tools. Don’t get caught up in the process of forums, flip charts, surveys. Candid, face-to-face conversations where you listen and learn from the people who will experience your public art is the easiest (and maybe the most meaningful) community engagement.

Who should you engage? Ask yourself these questions to start stretching your imagination.

  • Who passes by the site?
  • What is the site’s history? Who used to visit, live or work there?
  • Who has influence in this neighborhood?
  • Who loves art around here? Who hates art around here?
  • Who has done (or tried) public art (or graffiti) near here?

Introduce yourself and let them know that you’re trying to learn more about this place and its neighbors. Avoid telling people what you’re going to do. You’re on a fact-finding mission. You know what happens when you assume, right?

What should you ask them? Questions like these might help you understand the sentiments of the community and how they’ll work with or against you. Pick 2-3 and respect people’s time.

  • How long have you lived here? What’s changed over the years? What’s still the same?
  • What’s the best thing about this neighborhood? What bothers you the most about this neighborhood?
  • What do you with people knew about this place?
  • If you had unlimited time, resources, and energy to spend on this space, what would it be?
  • Have you ever seen a mural or sculpture that you really liked?
  • Who else should I talk to?

People may not know how to answer any of these questions, and you can’t implement all of their feedback. But the fact that you’re asking gives you credibility and maybe even some trust.

Community engagement isn’t just a phase of your public art process. It’s a mindset and a skill that should be used at the beginning, middle, and end of the project. You’ll have a lot of friends to celebrate with at the end!

Identify creative assets.

Make yourself familiar with the existing creative assets nearby. How could they contribute or give feedback?

Set goals together.

Why public art? Why here? Together with those who care about your project (public art team, neighbors and community, creative assets), set goals for the public art. Be SMAART. Challenge yourselves to think long term and bigger scale—what do we want to happen in the neighborhood five years from now as a result of this public art piece?

3. Plan, adapt, repeat.

The team is ready. The goals are set. Now you need to work out some details to include in the artwork RFP. Be thorough, but stay flexible. Things will change. This Public Art Network Best Practices Guide is a great place to start.

Draft a budget.

Include the artist fee, fabrication, installation, signage, maintenance and marketing.

How much does the artist get paid? “The artist fee is usually a line item in the overall project budget.  Artist fees are different for each project and vary by region, by the scope and complexity of the proposed artwork, by the project timeline, and by the process of implementation (which includes site visits, the community engagement process, and public meetings). Typically the artist specifies their fee within the proposed project budget or it is predetermined by the commissioning agency. Fees are typically gauged as a percentage of the project budget.” (Public Art Network)

Identify funding sources.

You should probably have some idea of the funding available to you before you even begin the community engagement process. Your project will likely need multiple sources. Here are some ideas:

Percent for Art

How do percent for art laws apply to private development? Increasingly, percent for art legislation and local ordinances are written to encourage or mandate that private development (above a certain monetary threshold) participate in percent for art laws.  The requirements of participation vary from location to location, with some programs mandating the creation of new artworks, some offering incentives in return for participation (like greater floor-area-ratios or increased building height limits), and others accepting an alternative contribution to a general fund used and administered by the local public art program.  In most cases, percent for art laws include some combination of these factors and are tailored to the needs of the community. (Public Art Network)

Percent for Art Talking Points

Private Developers

It’s common for a private developer to include a line in the project budget for public art. But if there is no one motivated or able to make it happen, the money may not be spent on public art.

Be aware of legal considerations.

Some helpful legal considerations to be aware of, as explained by the Public Art Network:

What is "VARA"?

The Visual Artist Rights Act of 1990 was created to give artists the right to be credited as the author and to prevent destruction or alteration of their work. Some states now have their own artists’ rights legislation. Artists recognize that public sites sometimes change uses and that the protection of a public artwork is different than that in a museum setting. At the same time, the artist’s reputation is based on that work and its integrity.

Who owns the copyright for a public artwork?

The artist retains all rights under the Copyright Act of 1976 (17 USC Section 101) as the sole author of the work for the duration of the copyright. The duration of copyright in the United States is currently the life of the author, plus 70 years.

Title to the artwork passes to the client or commissioning agency/organization upon their written acceptance of and payment for the work, but copyright belongs to and remains with the artist. In other words, although the client may “own” the work of art, the artist who created the work owns the copyright, including all ways in which that artwork is represented (photos, video, ads, logos, branding), other than in situ (on-site documentation photos). Artists may wish to register their copyright with the federal government. For more information on copyright, refer to Public Art Network’s Best Practices Guidelines.

In what cases might an artist wish to license their work?

Artists should retain copyright to their Artwork. However, Artists should expect to grant license to the contracting agency or ultimate owner for reasonable use of images of the Artwork for publicity, educational, and reasonable promotional purposes upon which the parties agree.” (As stated in Best Practices #24)

How does VARA affect the long-term relationship between a public art agency and an artist?

One of the results of the Visual Artist Rights Act has been the establishment of a more formal and prolonged relationship between the artist and the commissioning agency.  This relationship is typically further enumerated in the contract for the commission.

When there is an issue with an artwork, such as damage or changes to its site or context, then the owner of that artwork should communicate directly with the artist.  This benefits the owner and the artist, both of whom have a vested interest in the wellbeing of the artwork.  As a matter of best practices, if an artwork needs to be removed, then the artist should be given the first right to regain ownership, remove the artwork, or disclaim authorship, even if VARA rights have previously been waived.”

Public Art Contracts and Copyrights Webinar

Maintenance and sustainability

Who will you contact for repairs? Can the landscapers easily mow around it? You can’t plan for every future scenario. Delegate the right person or organization with resources to make those decisions down the road.

If your community doesn’t already have a public art plan, this project will help inform one. What did you learn from this artwork that should be considered in the next?

4. Artist relations.

Already know who the artist is? Great! (Hope your community engagement process informed that decision!)

Still looking for an artist? There’s a process for that. Public artists are commonly selected through an RFP or RFQ process. This guide is everything you could need to know about that.

“Request for Qualifications (RFQ) can be an effective and efficient method to issue a Call for Artists. RFQs require minimal expenditures of time and money from artists. Request for Proposals (RFP) can be an effective way to consider and evaluate the appropriateness of an artist when a limited number of artists are invited to participate in a selection process, the criteria for selection is explicit and uniform, and there is an honorarium paid to the artist for each submission” (PAN Best Practice, Goals and Guidelines).

“A Call for Artists is an opportunity notice that gives artists the necessary information about a project in order to apply. The site description, budget, timeline, eligibility guidelines and public art goals are some of the basic requirements to be included in any Call for Artists/RFQ. Issuing a Call for Artists is a standard practice in the public art field. There are currently over 350 public art programs in the United States can be found in both rural and urban areas; in federal, state, county and city government agencies; or private nonprofit or for-profit organizations run independently or as part of a local arts agency.

All versions of Calls for Artists can take place online to alleviate the processing of multiple (sometimes hundreds) of submission materials. Currently (in 2013), there are three on-line options (,, and with many programs opting to create their own on-line application system. These options are changing rapidly and it is best to conduct on-line research regarding the best choice for your program” (PAN Artist Selection Resource Guide).

Some places to post:

5. Celebrate together.

Because you’ve done such an admirable job engaging the community before you started and throughout the process, there are lots of people who are waiting in anticipation to see the artwork completed. It’s time to celebrate!

  • Remember that the project is not about you, it’s about the community.
  • Acknowledge all the people who contributed through the process.
  • Invite the artist to attend the celebration – and speak, if possible.
  • Invite those public officials!
  • And the media!