View of completed sculpture

Public Art

Ranging from temporary pieces to permanent installations that enliven urban infrastructure, public art can be a powerful catalyst for change.

Lessons Learned: 
Engagement and Communications: Wide Variety of Approaches

In Our Town public art projects, community engagement and communication strategies were key to project success. 

The projects however did not all share a similar model for how public input was gathered. 

In some cases, project managers utilized a continuous schedule of stakeholder meetings to keep people informed about the project as it progressed.  In Bethlehem, PA, “ArtsQuest held over 30 public meetings and charrettes with a number of community stakeholders including local colleges and universities, members of the nonprofit community, the historical preservation community, the local arts community, ArtsQuest members, sponsors and donors and representatives from the local neighborhood.  Presentations were also made to Bethlehem City Council, Northampton County Council and the Bethlehem Area School Board.”

In other projects, such as in San Jose and Phoenix, project mangers worked in favor of creating a strong upfront effort to vet potential plans with a wide audience of stakeholders and then worked more closely with the project team to finalize plans.   

Also in some projects, such as in Columbus, public input happened in more direct one-on-one meetings with artists.  Project lead Malcolm Cochran explained, “Most often we engaged the public through informal presentations by the artist  — a meet and greet, if you will — on the project site. Some projects lent themselves to bigger events such as the program related to Jon Rubin’s work. We viewed all these events as part of the mission to educate the public about the broad range of contemporary public art.” 

In others, robust community engagement plans helped serve a double purpose of both gathering community input and helping to serve as a way to help get a wide audience aware of and excited about upcoming events.  In Greensboro, project manager Dabney Sanders said, “Multiple public meetings were held to engage the community in the process. Community input was gathered through documented question and answer sessions and conversations, as well as through online and written surveys. The ideas that were generated were used to inform the conceptualization of the project. Public engagement through these forums also proved successful as a way to encourage attendance at the opening celebration.”

Still others used the opportunity to help build the larger network of people involved in the conversation about the intersection of public art, design, and planning.  In Detroit, for example, project leaders, “invited this broader group to a set of “workshops” where we asked them to provide feedback on the plan in a number of areas:  design aesthetic, landscaping plant materials, maintenance, etc.; and then hosted a separate workshop on the brand identity for the district. These workshops were not as intensive as charrettes, and we used them as a social networking opportunity for people to come talk about the intersection of public art, landscaping and urban design, while using the Sugar Hill plan as a model.”

Funding and Resources: Percent-for-Art Programs

Our Town public art projects followed a funding model of using a combination of grant funding, private donations, and public support to help meet project goals. 

This paralleled the fact that most of the projects positioned public art as part of larger urban development and revitalization efforts, thereby enabling them to look for funding and resources from other local municipal sources such as the city’s facilities improvement fund in Oregon City, or the Urban Renewal Authority in Charleston, WV

One project in particular, the “Finding Time: ColumbusPublicArt2012” project in Columbus, Ohio, strategically used Our Town funding to create a temporary public art festival, that not only brought aesthetic and social vitality to the downtown area, but helped to show local policy makers how a public art program could potentially bring new economic opportunities also. The strategy worked and in February of 2014 the mayor of Columbus signed an Executive Order authorizing the establishment of the City of Columbus Public Art Program. 

Partnerships and Logistics: Engage Professionals

Public art is a professionalized field and the Public Art Network's tools, resources and experts are a great place to start.  Below are some lessons from the Our Town Project managers.

Partnership: As with most public art projects, Our Town public art projects often have the city’s public art program taking the primary lead in the project (such as in Chattanooga, TN, Charleston, WV, and Phoenix, AZ).  When public art administrators were not at the helm, project managers from other organizations always worked closely with city staff from various department to help coordinate the day-to-day management of public review, permitting, and administration.  Many times private organizations focused on fostering the partnerships and projects needed to develop the public realm such as Midtown Detroit, Inc., Action Greensboro, and ArtsQuest in Bethlehem, PA lead the project teams and oversaw all aspects of the project from coordinating the selection panel through to final project construction.

Selection Panels: One of the key components in the process of creating public art is the creation of a selection panel to review artist applications.  In Casper, WY, where the Nicolaysen Art Museum helped to coordinate the integration of public art into a nearby affordable housing complex the selection panel was made up of local city administrators, arts professionals, and community leaders.  This type of panel made up of a wide cross-section of stakeholder groups was found in the Chattanooga and Greensboro projects as well. 

A different model of artist selection, which involves more of a direct selection process whereby artists are invited to submit proposals which are then reviewed by a curatorial team was followed in Columbus, OH and in portions of the Phoenix project which were curated directly by the Arizona State University Art Museum.

Maintenance:  For any public art work, or larger public art program, maintenance is always a challenge.  The "Under.Over.Pass" project in Greensboro met this challenge head on by establishing an, “endowment for maintenance for all public art installations on the Greenway.  The Greensboro Downtown Greenway has also worked closely with Greensboro’s Parks and Recreation Department to advise on maintenance issues as well as the monitoring of trail use.”  To ensure that the maintenance requirements for the different installations would be fully understood in the future, a comprehensive Maintenance Notebook was also created.

Goals and Evaluation: Working with Different Sources of Data

While a great deal of development has happened in the area of evaluation in public art, public art programs often struggle to find ways in which to measure the results of the work that they know from experience helps to bring a new level of vitality to rural and urban communities. 

The "Under.Over.Pass." project in Greensboro, North Carolina described one of the more robust evaluation programs for their public art project which worked to convert a strategic underpass to connect urban neighborhoods separated by a busy freeway. “[To do the evaluation we partnered with the] Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department which installed trail counters to monitor trail use.  Surveys, both written and online, were compiled to assess community views and Action Greensboro/The Downtown Greenway kept tabs on media attention.  [We also monitored] economic development along and adjacent to the Greenway.”  What they found was that, “the online surveys were the least effective, perhaps because of their anonymity and their lack of ‘immediacy.’” Reflectively they acknowledged that the best understanding of the project came from looking at, “all the criteria taken together, which added up to a broad picture of the success of the public art project taken within the context of the larger Downtown Greenway project.”

More information about evaulation is available on the "Project Process - Measuring Project Results" page.