Public Art


According to the Association of Public Art, “Public art is not an art “form.” Its size can be huge or small. It can tower fifty feet high or call attention to the paving beneath your feet. Its shape can be abstract or realistic (or both), and it may be cast, carved, built, assembled, or painted. It can be site-specific or stand in contrast to its surroundings. What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means. Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.”

Here is an example of compelling public artwork:

Before I die; Participatory public art project by Candy Chang


Getting Started

YOUR PURPOSE: Before starting your public art piece, make sure you have an understanding of your target audience and your purpose behind creating it:

  • WHO are you looking to educate and inform?
  • WHAT are you looking to educate and inform about?
  • WHY are you looking to educate and inform?

YOUR FORMAT: There are so many approaches to the expression of public art, that it is important to take the time to look at examples of it in other communities and educate yourself about the wide range of possibilities. Your vision may also be limited by the permissions of the stakeholders in your own community. Do some research and get examples of public art in your city or town. After reviewing examples of public art, try asking yourself these questions to help figure out the full spectrum of possibilities before you determine what type of public art is best for your community.

  • What types of public art have you seen that you like or dislike?
  • What types of media can be used to create public art, and what media will best support the transmission of your message?
  • Where would you like to see public art placed or utilized in your community?
  • Would you like your artwork to have a secondary purpose? Such as:
    • A gathering place?
    • A decorative fence or pathway mural that improves an existing facade?
    • Street furniture (benches, tree grates or guards, bollards, bus stops, etc)
    • Sidewalk decorations?

YOUR PROCESS: When you’re ready to get started, the following steps can guide you through the process of creating a public art installation:

Select a site 

  • Where will it make the most impact?
  • Where will it improve/transform/enhance the area?
  • Where will you likely be given permissions to create your work?

Design Your Artwork & Create a Concept Presentation for Approval

  • Information gathering: research the community, ideas, and
    approaches; take this into account as a selling point for your artwork.
  • Conceptual Phase (This is just an idea phase. It is often more of a direction)
  • Schematic Phase (This is when you should see a drawing or mockup that
    identifies what the piece will entail, there may be some refinishing)
  • Final Design (The design is complete, but not built/completed. Approval at this phase gives the go-ahead for implementation.)
  • Present your Design to the entities in charge of permissions, and be sure that you are endorsed and permitted to create your public art in your chosen location.

Identify Funding Sources: 

  • Arts Commissions: Many cities, counties, and states have a local arts commission that provides grants or has a stable funding source specifically for
    public art. Check with your local arts commission and see if your community has such a fund. 
  • Neighborhood Programs: Many cities have neighborhood improvement
    programs that offer grants for improvement of blight and general enhancements.
  • Foundations: Local and national foundations exist with missions to improve the
    communities in which they reside. They typically have grant programs that
    require a letter of intent from a community and will often support projects that
    include art as an element for change.
  • Sponsorships: Businesses and service organizations in your community are
    often willing to support causes that will improve neighborhoods and make your neighborhood a destination. Many businesses such as banks are required to give back to the community. Contact the community relations divisions of these businesses and if that doesn’t work, try the marketing department.
  • In-kind Donations: In-kind donations are all donations other than cash money.
    This includes materials and volunteer labor. Some businesses may not give
    money, but they would be happy to give materials. Maybe you have a local
    lumber store or home improvement store in your area, they may be more than
    willing to donate wood or paint. Don’t forget the power of volunteers.
  • Volunteers: can help prepare the site, help the artist with installation and save time and money in many other ways.
  • City Government: Sometimes if a city is going to install streetlights, benches, or
    tree grates in your neighborhood, they might be willing to work with the
    community to install something more interesting than the average items. Also, if there is extensive disruption in your neighborhood due to construction, you may be able to negotiate artwork as mitigation. Sometimes this is temporary, like the painted fences you see around construction sites.
  • Individual donors: You can raise money from individual donors in your


Resources For Creating Public Art

Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Permitting (Includes Street Furniture and Decorations, Signal Box Artwork, and Intersection Painting)

Seattle Office of Arts and Culture

Urban Artworks

SEED Seattle


How to get permissions and engage your community for a big public mural

How to Get a Legal Wall for a Mural


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