Public Art: A Process of Inclusion


After over two decades working as a professional public artist I came to the conclusion that public art is a process of inclusion, it’s all about community development, and consensus building.  It is a process that allows all voices in the community to identify significant issues, to articulate how those issues might be addressed, an to participate in reaching solutions together. 

In short, the public art process involves more than merely decorating public places. The process can be cumbersome, lengthy, and challenging, but the results are usually worth the investment of time and energy.

Public art programs were first launched in the United States in the 1930s, when President Roosevelt’s New Deal spurred the idea that Americans should take pride in their cultural treasures. The New Deal program Art-in-Architecture (A-i-A) developed percent for art programs, a structure for funding public art still utilized today. This program gave one half of one percent of total construction costs of all government buildings to purchase contemporary American art for that structure. 

Today, acquisitions also include specially commissioned art projects for public art spaces, and the percentage allocated from a new construction project typically varies from one-half to two percent.

In addition to percent-for-art programs, many cities allocate budgets for infusing their already existing public spaces with art. Many programs focus on time-based installations, which are temporary and span a certain length of time, though others make acquisitions of artist works for permanent installation in a public forum.

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