public art projects for artists

Public Art Projects

Public art projects can range from those that are government-funded or governmentally-legislated art acquisition programs for new construction or major renovation projects, to guerrilla-style art activities in public sites. Many cities support public arts by allocating a percentage of their budget for art programs, or creating other opportunities for public art as part of a city or country program. Some public transportation authorities have public art programs, while others are created and organized by arts organizations and museums. There are mailing lists, list-serves, and blogs about public art.

There are a few things to know before you get started:

RFQ stands for Request for Qualifications. Sometimes agencies put out an RFQ, asking artists to submit their qualifications for creating public art. This might include previous public art commissions, or jobs you have had that increase your qualifications, such as welding, coordinating large projects, or other relevant experience. There is no standard form for an RFQ or an RFP (see below).

RFP stands for Request for Proposals. This is a specific request for a detailed proposal for a public art project, most often at a pre-determined site. This includes a project description, qualifications, budget, timeline, and other items. 

It is a good idea to get on the mailing lists of institutions that generate or coordinate public art. These could be your local Cultural Affairs Department, part of the city government, or a list-serve for public art competitions. You will find almost everything you need online.

Public art projects are often awarded based on a competitive process. The RFP is sent out with a deadline for submitting your proposal. Proposals are usually read and reviewed by a panel of your peers, other artists who have public art experience, a representative from the funder or business or development firm, or a curator or consultant for public art. The list is narrowed down to the finalists, usually three. The finalists are then given a stipend to develop a detailed proposal and mock up of the project, and asked to present to the review committee on a certain date. The final award for the project is usually chosen from these three finalists.

Being awarded a public art commission can be rewarding and exciting, but there are some things to consider about working in this field:

It can take a long time to finish a public art project, sometimes up to 10 years.

You will often be working and negotiating with engineers, architects, city officials, developers, and the like. Excellent people skills are a must.

You may be asked to sign a lengthy or complicated contract, and you may need to pay a lawyer to review it and explain all the logistics and fine print.

Artists often lose money on projects, especially if they are inexperienced. It is a good idea to work with experienced professionals to avoid going over-budget.

Do NOT propose something you have no idea about, or no experience with. It can lead to a financial nightmare.

Your project might change based on a number of factors, including community input, engineering issues, or just plain bureaucracy.

Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions to those who can offer you guidance. Be patient, and don’t be afraid to learn.


Feel free to share this article with other artists.

You can also get our popular book for artists, Getting Your Sh*t Together: The Ultimate Business Manual for Every Practicing Artist, which includes all of this information and more here.