Public art is artwork that is designed for and placed in a public space. It can take many forms including sculptures and statues, murals, architecture, site-specific installations, performances, graffiti, actions, interventions, land and environmental art, as well as conceptual, social practice and experimental arts. Public art is a democratic means for artists to reach broad audiences outside the galleries and museums, and it can be an opportunity for communities to celebrate their neighborhoods and connect with each other in meaningful ways.
Although public art has existed in numerous cultures for thousands of years, the concept gained prominence in the 1970s with the rise of urban cultural policies and ideas surrounding community access to accessible culture. During this time, the definition of public art expanded from officially sanctioned works meant to compel historical pride and connect communities through visual propaganda to include works such as street art and artistic interventions by individuals that challenge cultural and commercial boundaries.
Whether a city’s public art commissioning process takes place within the framework of a museum or gallery or in the context of an urban planning policy such as a Percent for Art ordinance, community participation is crucial to the success of a project. Often, the values that are agreed upon by the community during the public art planning process become part of the project’s aesthetic and purpose. The community may also play a role in the conceptualization and development of the project, for example, by creating a public art fund to provide the budget required to commission a work.
A common way for communities to commission public art is through a Call for Artists. This often includes a set of design criteria and a ranking system for submissions. The criteria can vary, depending on the type of project being commissioned, but some common aspects include creativity and originality, as well as an ability to interpret the context and intended audience of the work. In addition, it is important for artists to demonstrate a history of working in the medium that they are applying to a particular project. For example, if the Public Art Committee is seeking a sculpture for an outdoor space, it is important that the artist submit a portfolio of past sculptures to show their experience in this medium.
Some works are considered permanent, while others will have a specific lifespan that is predetermined by the duration of the exhibition or installation. This type of public art is usually installed and maintained by a government entity, such as the public parks department or a municipal gallery, or it can be a result of private funding and philanthropy.
Other types of public art are temporary and can be created using a variety of materials and techniques. For example, Nick Selenitsch made a series of drawings called Linemarking 2009-12 in outdoor public spaces, which were then washed away after a few weeks to create ephemeral works that exist only as photographic documentation.