Compromising Public Art (or Like Putting a Ribbon on a Goose)

Posted by Tricia Wasney On February - 14 - 2013
"Flight Stop" at Eaton Centre.

“Flight Stop” at Eaton Centre.

A landmark decision stemming from altering a public artwork in Canada in 1982 changed the way the work of artists is respected and entrenched clauses of the Canadian Copyright Act for the betterment of all artists.

Michael Snow, an internationally acclaimed artist, was commissioned by the Eaton Centre in Toronto to create an artwork for this popular downtown shopping mall. Flight Stop, consisting of 60 fiberglass Canada geese, was installed in the atrium in 1979.

Soaring up six stories overhead, the work is both arresting and strangely calming as it juxtaposes an image of grand freedom with the frenetic business of commerce below.

During the Christmas season of 1981, the mall owners thought it would be festive to tie red ribbons around the necks of the geese. Michael Snow was not amused.

Snow brought legal action against the Eaton Centre, getting an injunction to have the ribbons removed. He argued that the decorations violated the intent of his work, infringed upon his moral rights, and damaged his reputation as an artist.

The court agreed and said “the plaintiff is adamant in his belief that his naturalistic composition has been made to look ridiculous by the addition of ribbons and suggests it is not unlike dangling earrings from the Venus de Milo. While the matter is not undisputed, the plaintiff’s opinion is shared by a number of other well-respected artists and people knowledgeable in his field.” Read the rest of this entry »

When Is It Time to De-accession?

Posted by Michele Cohen On February - 13 - 2013
Michele Cohen

Michele Cohen

I have thought long and hard about ways to approach the conservation and maintenance of public art, particularly the thorny question of de-accessioning a piece.

What are the criteria? How do we make an informed decision? What is in the best interest of the public?

Historically, government entities have removed public artworks because they have deteriorated to the point where they pose a public safety hazard or they are so degraded they have become an eyesore, and the cost of repair exceeds 50% of their value (another hard thing to determine). The decision to remove an artwork in those cases is easier to make.

The more complex reasons to de-accession a public artwork stem from negative reactions to the content. What sort of process do we embark on if the public objects to the subject or style of an artwork?  I think many folks, both arts professionals and the general public, are gun-shy about removing artworks because of subject or style after the precedents of Tilted Arc and John Ahearn’s installation, which remained for a brief five days on a plaza in front of a Bronx police station.

For the purposes of this discussion, I will focus on de-accessioning public artworks because of conservation issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Best Practices in Public Art Project Selection

Posted by Lester Burg On February - 13 - 2013
Lester Burg

Lester Burg

One of our most enjoyable tasks as public art administrators is telling an artist they have been chosen for a commission. Getting to that point is a long process, which differs across the country, but our goal is the same—select the best artist for the site and have those involved feel good about the process.

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) oversees commuter rail and subways. MTA Arts for Transit (AFT) commissions permanent public art when stations are rehabilitated or constructed. Our selection process has worked well over the past 26 years, with 243 completed projects and 50 in process. With hundreds of stations in diverse communities, we have deep experience in the selection process for projects large and small. The process is the same for all.

Artist selection is different from buying widgets and we are fortunate to have internal colleagues who sanction and understand our need for arts professionals to participate in artist selection (MTA is a state agency). Over the years, we have learned to leave little to chance and to tightly organize the panel meetings, so that everyone feels satisfied the process was thorough and fair.

Artists respond to a “Call for Artists” that describes the project and submittal requirements which include digital selections from their portfolio of existing work and their credentials. These are posted at and promoted through arts organizations, or in publications for major projects. Most agencies use a similar approach. Read the rest of this entry »

Olympic-Sized Collaboration Leads to Regional Public Art Network

Posted by Eric Fiss On February - 13 - 2013
Eric Fiss

Eric Fiss

It was late 2008, and I had recently taken up the position as Public Art Planner for the City of Richmond, British Columbia, when I was invited to two meetings in early 2009, discussing regional collaborative projects. These discussions took place during the run up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games when international media attention would be focussed on our region.

The first meeting was for the Necklace Project, ten communities surrounding the City of Vancouver, working together to develop best practices and creating a series of public art projects on a unified theme. The ten participating communities were Burnaby, Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, New Westminster, North Vancouver City, North Vancouver District, Port Moody, Port Coquitlam, Richmond, and Surrey.

The goal of the Necklace Project was to commission public art installations in all ten host municipalities and connect them through the theme of Illuminations, as well as encourage visitors to visit and experience each of the project sites.

For several of the communities this was their first public art project, and the support of more experienced communities, including administrative support from the Alliance for Arts and Culture and cultural planner, Oksana Dexter, were vital in realization of the projects.

As mutual support and best practices were crucial to the success of the Necklace Project (be sure to check out the Necklace Project website for a final report and critical essay coming soon!), one of the more experienced public art coordinators, Lori Phillips, serving both the City and District of North Vancouver, suggested we might want to formalize our collaboration to extend after the Necklace projects were complete and to and welcome other municipalities into our public art networking group. Read the rest of this entry »

Minding Your RFPs And Qs

Posted by Elizabeth Keithline On February - 12 - 2013
Elizabeth Keithline (Photo: Peter Goldberg)

Elizabeth Keithline (Photo: Peter Goldberg)

When panelists review public art applications, they often view a wide range of artists and artworks. Some artists are quite experienced and others are applying for the first time. If you are new to the field, it is important to understand the difference between a Request For Proposals (RFP) and a Request For Qualifications (RFQ).

RFPs requires that you send a full project proposal. An artist will need to research the commission, (perform a site visit whenever possible), then submit a specific idea, including a full budget and information re: subcontractors, fabricators, and insurance. Unfortunately, artists are not typically paid for the proposed ideas unless they are chosen for the commission. This process is not considered best practice.

RFQs are a pre-qualifying round that requests images, resume, and sometimes a preliminary description of the type of work that you might create. This process operates under the premise that your background work qualifies you for round two finalist selection. Why would a commissioning agency waste your time generating a proposal, when your background experience is not aligned with the proposed project?

Do not request architectural plans during the RFQ stage. That information will come later if you are chosen as a finalist. Selection panelists are primarily looking at images of your background work, as well as CV, website, and any project reviews. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Eat Cake (or Not)

Posted by James LeFlore On February - 12 - 2013
James LeFlore

James LeFlore

In the Public Art Network (PAN), we all share and discuss our favorite recipes for success, i.e. “best practices.” And to make a comparison to the art of baking a delectable cake (imagine your favorite style here), there should be no surprise when you go off the recipe or use a stale batch of ingredients that your cake will come out of the oven tasting like the mess you put in it.

Agree with me or not, but I am starting to think that the majority of the general public sees the value of public art in a comparable manner to that of a slice of cake. Some are truly in love, seeing public art like a treat to be consumed in celebration of all the shared experiences of our lives. Others just have no sweet tooth for public art, they may be under a strict diet, or worse they blame cake and/or art for the destruction of our children’s future-children.

Maybe public art isn’t particularly suited as an entrée or even a side dish, but is good being a dessert—the last and memorable item on the menu.

I have observed a trend emerging in best practices. Public art has shown how we as cake makers can produce more and better recipes; how we can enlist more cooks and serve more customers; but before we eat more, let’s ensure we are all healthy and hit the gym.

So, first we need to define our trouble spots that require the most work. Here are a few of my proposed exercises (best practices) for the field, just to get us going:  Read the rest of this entry »

Copyrights & Copywrongs: A Quick Overview of Basic Issues

Posted by Clark Wiegman On February - 12 - 2013
Clark Wiegman

Clark Wiegman

Although the Public Art Network (PAN) has provided public art guidelines regarding copyrights there are some notable challenges & exceptions to the rules that are worth examining. While there are many chapter & verse details within this discussion that deserve attention, my approach here is a little wider focus & idiosyncratic. There is definitely a lot of nuance to the issues and I pose many ideas as open-ended questions to invite discussion in the comments below.

Contract negotiations. Typical copyright language within public art contracts usually goes something like ‘upon approval of installation of the Artwork, the Client takes ownership while the Artist retains copyrights…’ What happens until that point during design and fabrication is an area that deserves greater scrutiny and clarification, as there is always the distinct possibility of a project terminating for any number of reasons. Considering this, should some sort of protective worst case scenario language be considered a best practice?

Registering a copyright. Don’t assume if you put © on your drawing/painting/sculpture/photo that you have sufficiently protected your artwork. No United States court has recognized an unregistered copyright as deserving financial remuneration for infringement. Spend the $35 and register your project if you want basic legal standing. Besides cost, are there any potential downsides to copyright registration?

Copyrighted items. Sculptures, drawings, photos, and other products of the artist’s individual original efforts can be copyrighted or trademarked. Ideas or concepts cannot be copyrighted. The item must be a tangible realization of the artist’s concept. Next time you toss out an idea during an interview or design team process and the idea shows up later, unaccredited or unremunerated (as potentially unethical as that may be) know you do not have a legal leg to stand on to pursue damages. On the other hand, if a conceptual artwork is somehow codified (such as words or phrases i.e. a Jenny Holzer truism) does that afford it protection? Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art Assessment & Conservation

Posted by Aliza Schiff On February - 12 - 2013
Aliza Schiff

Aliza Schiff

Every two years Arlington Public Art contracts a conservator to review our collection of more than 60 permanent artworks and for the first time this year our portable works—60 framed artworks hung in county buildings. This year’s review was recently completed and I am now reviewing the condition reports and making decisions with the rest of the Public Art staff on specific conservation and maintenance actions to take.

Some of the findings in the reports are straightforward and the recommendations are simple to implement. For example, mend the fence around a play sculpture in a park; or clean the dust and dead bugs out of a stained glass skylight at a community center. We have good relationships with other county departments especially Parks & Recreation and our Public Art Master Plan (see page 82) makes clear that sponsoring county departments are responsible for maintaining artworks in their facilities or sites.

Artworks that were commissioned by private property owners as a community benefit through the county’s site plan process are also reviewed by our contract conservator. Our Public Art Master Plan states that the site owner is responsible for maintaining the work of art as a community benefit in perpetuity. When these artworks need attention, I contact the property owners to have the work done. This often includes recommending products or specialists and I consult with the artist, if possible, and the maintenance plan submitted at the project’s completion.  Read the rest of this entry »

Coming Up For Air: A Pep Talk for the New Year

Posted by Carrie Brown On February - 11 - 2013
Carrie Brown

Carrie Brown

So it is the start of a new year; a time to refresh, refocus and re-energize. The City of Austin Art in Public Places Program recently held a staff retreat where we did just that. In the last two years we have grown from two to seven staff members and with our full team assembled can effectively tackle the work before us.

But there is more to it than just having enough resources to “get it done.” As public art administrators (or as I like to say “jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-all!”), we also need periodic inspiration and creative endurance. The challenge is finding the time. At our staff retreat, we began the day with Show-and-Tell of our favorite projects and artists and current creative endeavors—and how refreshing it was!

Show-and-tell got me thinking about not only what inspires me, but why, and the importance of spending time figuring it out.

Here are a few things I came up with:

As a person of short stature (my cousin’s daughter once asked if I had “grown all the way” after learning that I was in fact, an adult), I have always been drawn to objects that challenge one’s sense of scale—like the proposal for deer-shaped power lines or a three-story bear. To me, these massive objects are breathtaking and at this large-scale diminish the relevancy of our individual size. Read the rest of this entry »

Jessica Cusick

Jessica Cusick

On Saturday, September 28, 2013, Glow, the first all-night arts event in the United States to emphasize the commissioning of new work, will transform the beach in Santa Monica into a world of interactive and engaging contemporary art installations.

Building on the success of Glow’s first two editions, it is expected, once again, to attract between 100,000 and 200,000 visitors to Santa Monica Beach during the course of one night, making it among the largest public art events in the U.S.

In order to produce the event, staff will ask City Council to adopt an ordinance that temporarily suspends local law in the Glow zone for the duration of the event, as was the case in 2008 and 2010. This was the unusual solution that we were able to craft, working closely with the City Attorney’s office.

Use of public space in Santa Monica is by necessity heavily regulated given the broad range of demands and the need to preserve access to one of the most iconic beaches in the country. When we first started discussing Glow we realized that in order to provide the artists the freedom they needed to reinvent our public spaces, and give the public the opportunity to experience them, the event that we were imagining would essentially break every rule in the book. These range from when the parks are open to the public to what can take place on the beach at various times of the year. In 2008, we even needed to take precautions not to impact the grunion runRead the rest of this entry »

Liesel Fenner

Liesel Fenner

Americans for the Arts Public Art Network (PAN) was formed and evolved in the 1990s when a group of public art administrators sought to establish professional standards for this rapidly-expanding sector at the intersection of art and design.

While the design professions have long-established best practices through their professional associations like the American Institute of Architects (AIA) or American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), PAN has been moving steadily forward articulating guidelines for commissioning agencies and artists alike.

The drafting of these standards comes from volunteers—leaders in the field, in particular past and present PAN Council members leading committees, discussions, and drafting platform statements posted and updated on the PAN website (

For this week’s Blog Salon we invited PAN members—both administrators and artists—who are leading programs or projects that you may not have heard about yet. They discuss everything from the ever-popular topic of conservation to things to consider when de-accessioning work to suspending the rules to allow for public art events. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art Year in Review Spotlight: “Community Garden” in Bronx, NY

Posted by Tim Mikulski On February - 4 - 2013

Americans for the Arts’ Public Art Network Year in Review program is the only national program that specifically recognizes public art projects. Up to 50 projects are selected annually through an open-call application process and selected by two to three jurors. The projects are available on CD-Rom in our bookstore and include a PowerPoint, data and project list, and hundreds of project photos. With our 2013 Public Art Year in Review nomination process slated to open later this month, we will be spotlighting a few former winners on ARTSblog.

Today’s project is Community Garden which was honored in 2007. The project is a glass mosaic mural located on the mezzanine wall at the Bedford Boulevard Subway Station in The Bronx, NY. The imagery depicts a fantasy garden of colorful, larger than life-sized fruits, vines, insects, and animals. Through artist Andrea Dezsö’s garden, the community is able to experience colors and shapes that are different from those predominantly found in the area. Her garden delights commuters, inspiring them with the playfulness missing from their urban environment.

Photo by Rob Wilson for MTA Arts for Transit.

Photo by Rob Wilson for MTA Arts for Transit.

Check out more photos of Community Garden below and remember to nominate a project in your area when we open up our nominations for the 2013 Year in Review! Read the rest of this entry »

Artist Charlavail designed this amazing pair of Vans.

As a Vans Custom Culture national charity partner in 2013, Americans for the Arts is proud to work closely with Vans to reinforce the importance of arts education in schools across the country.

With the launch of the Vans Custom Culture art competition on January 2, budding artists and designers are racing to have their teachers fill registration slots open to the first 1,500 U.S.-based public or private high schools (more than 650 have already entered!).

The program, in its fourth iteration, pushes students to compete and create a work of art from a blank pair of Vans shoes. Each blank shoe must be designed by using the following themes: Art, Music, Action Sports, and Local Flavor.

Students will have until April 5 to complete the shoes and submit their images online. The Custom Culture competition will generate $50,000 for the winning school’s art program at the final judging in New York this summer while simultaneously drawing attention to the importance of art as an integral part of a well-rounded education.

Artists, fashion designers, athletes, and local news anchors are all being tapped to create their own custom shoes as Ambassadors of the program. Eager to provide inspiration wherever possible, Ambassadors are tweeting images (#VansCustomCulture) of their own custom designs. Some of our favorites can be found below and also on the Vans Custom Culture siteRead the rest of this entry »

Happy New Year from Americans for the Arts

Posted by admin On January - 3 - 2013

As your first week of 2013 gets closer to an end, Americans for the Arts wants to be sure to wish you a Happy New Year! Cue music, lights, photos!

Connecting with My Regional Public Art Network

Posted by Karen Bubb On December - 12 - 2012

Attendees listen to one of the excellent speakers during our NowPAC meeting in early November 2012.

One of five regional networks of public art administrators, NowPAC (Northwest Public Art Council) had their annual meeting in Portland, OR, on November 2. Nearly 70 people from four states and two countries attended the one-day session.

We met in an old, renovated building that now serves as headquarters for the hip landscape architecture firm Place Studio. Architectural models, flying brooms (Halloween had just past), and material samples surrounded us as we settled in to look at images, hear from our peers, and re-connect with the tribe.

Kudos to the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) for organizing a great line-up of speakers and for hosting a great after-party at RACC Executive Director Eloise Damrosch’s “tree-house” home.

Presenters shared with us final designs for public art projects, stories of de-accessioning challenges, and new ideas on commissioning best practices.

In roundtable discussions, we covered:

  • the fine lines between being an administrator and a curator
  • changing demographics and how that affects what we commission
  • how to recover from a public art project gone bad  Read the rest of this entry »