Archive for the ‘1% for Art’Category

Who picks it?

How does public art get chosen for a particular place? Who is responsible for selecting it?

Meridian Archway

There are many variations on how public art gets selected, but within the government funded Percent for Art programs there is a typical process. Most of the time, it is the government arts commissions that are responsible for reviewing and selecting a given work for a project. These arts commissions exist at the federal, state, county and municipal levels. The arts commissions generally have a Public Art committee or department with a director and staff. The Public Art Committee will first learn of a new building project or a remodel of an existing government building, then will determine the art budget based on the construction costs (usually ½ – 1%). The staff will meet with the architects, planners, and future users of the construction and determine what kind of art is desired: sculpture, mural, floor design, functional art benches, themes, materials, etc. Also they will determine where the art might be placed within the project; i.e. exterior, interior, integrated into the floors or walls, hanging in the atrium, or all of the above.

A Call to Artists is then issued advertising the project and its parameters. This Call is advertised on arts commission websites, mailing lists, e-lists, and other relevant arts and design media. The Call solicits either artists’ qualifications and portfolios, or specific proposals for a selection committee review. The staff of the Public Art Program will put together a professional selection committee that will first review all of these portfolios or proposals, usually in a private session or two. Sometimes the selection committee will receive over 250 entries for a single project!

This selection committee is usually comprised of a half a dozen members, typically including the art commission staff member in charge of running the selection process (usually ex-officio); the architect of the project; the structural engineer; a professional artist from the community; a community member who will be a user of the new facility; a local elected or appointed official; the administrator of the facility; sometimes the facility’s caretaker; among other possibilities.

La Grande Vitesse by Calder

La Grande Vitesse by Calder photo by Meijer Gardens

This selection committee reviews the portfolios of previous artists’ works or initial proposals, and then usually selects 2-5 finalists, who are then paid a minimal design fee to create site-specific proposals. This entails models, drawings, material samples, structural drawings, slide show of previous works, etc. The artists are generally given about two months to design these specific proposals, which are then each delivered to the selection committee in about an hour long presentation. The committee will then pick one artist to proceed with the fabrication and installation of the work. A contract is drawn up between the artist and the art agency, and the artist is typically given a year to execute the work. The budget is usually a fixed fee, paid to the artist in installments, and the artist is responsible for all aspects of the construction and installation of the work within that given budget, including structural engineering approval, permitting, insurance, licensing, etc. Some budgets are small, under $5000, while some can be as much as $400,000 to $1million, depending on the scale and scope of the project, as well as the artist’s reputation.

The selection committee has a big responsibility. It must select a work that is not only exceptional artwork, but it must also reflect the interests of the community and the facility users. The best selection might become a signatory landmark and icon for a community, such as Calder’s La Grande Vitesse, Grand Rapids, MI, the image of which is seen on the mayor’s stationery and the city’s trucks. The worst will get torn out of its site, like Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc in New York City, which may have been excellent contemporary sculpture, but failed as a successful work of public art.

Tilted Arc by Ricard Serra, photo by U.S.G.S.A.

Tilted Arc by Ricard Serra, photo by U.S.G.S.A.

Another way public art is selected occurs when a donor wishes to give a work to a public institution, like a public park for example. In that case, the proposed donation might be similarly reviewed by the Public Art Committee for appropriateness to the proposed site and community, and the quality of the artwork, but in addition, would likely be reviewed by the Parks Department, as well as the city’s Gift and Donations Committee. If it is a public park, it would also likely have to be approved by community groups and citizens’ organizations that surround and use the park.

All of these selection methods are written and available for public review in legislative documents that were approved by their respective agencies.

Watch a video promo of our upcoming program: You Call That Art?! Airing November 22, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. on KCTS-9, Seattle.


10 2010

Who pays for this stuff?!

Who pays for this stuff?!

John Young with Michael Heizer's "Adjacent Against Upon"

Who paid for this "rock" and called it art?

A very typical question! Public art gets funded in a number of ways. You will be interested to know that the US government has been commissioning public art, particularly memorials since the late 1700’s. Of course the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were doing it thousands of years ago. Some even consider the cave paintings in Lascaux a form of ritualistic public art. And maybe even Stonehenge….yes some public art can indeed contain a function too.
In the USA there was a proliferation of public art after President Kennedy signed into law in the early 1960’s what is known as the “one percent for art law”, after realizing that Europe far outpaced the USA in terms of a cultural heritage and legacy. This program first became known as the Federal Art in Public Places Program, which mandated that ½% to 1% of all new and renovation construction costs of any federal building be allocated towards the purchase of art accessible to all Americans. This became known as “The Percent for Art Program”, was voted on by the Legislature, and was administered by the General Services Administration and the National Endowment for the Arts. Long before that, FDR also backed a government funded public art program in the 1930’s as part of the Works Project Administration (WPA) that commissioned artists who were crushed by the Great Depression. In both cases new art was commissioned for federal post offices, tax centers and judicial buildings, and our cultural heritage began.

Uffizi in Florence

Public art has been part of Europe's public heritage.

States, counties and many municipalities also created Percent for Art Programs following similar guidelines, so here in Washington State we have federal projects, state projects (administered by the Washington State Arts Commission), county projects and city projects. The former Seattle Arts Commission and King County Arts Commission (now known as The Office of Arts and Culture, and 4Culture respectively) became renowned in the 1970’s and 1980’s as administrators and commissioners of some of the most innovative public art created in America.
Other forms of public art funding include private funding, usually in the form of private donations from wealthy donors. Examples of this can be seen on the UW campus as well as in the Olympic Sculpture Park. Donors can donate artworks to public institutions and receive the current appraised value of the work as a tax write-off, in some cases reaching millions of dollars. Sometimes citizen action groups raise funds to create public memorials of heroes or victims of tragedies. And occasionally, artists self-fund works that are usually sanctioned by the appropriate government agency, or they create impromptu “guerilla” artworks that mysteriously appear, engage the audience temporarily, and then mysteriously disappear. A giant monolith, for example appeared for a day on Kite Hill in Magnuson Park, Seattle, on New Year’s Day 2001!
In my next entry I’ll discuss how public art gets picked. Til then “You Call That Art?!”

Watch an excerpt from the public TV program, You Call That Art?! about the “one percent for art law.”


10 2010

Public vs Private Art

What is the difference between Public Art versus “private” art?

Professor John T. Young host

When I speak about “private art” I am generally referring to art that is found in museums, viagra galleries, healing and individual or corporate private collections. It is privately funded, meaning no tax dollars are used to purchase it. It is usually only seen by its owners, or employees of a given corporation, or most importantly, by people who willingly and voluntarily go to see art, such as at museums or galleries. They enter the doors of the museum wanting and expecting an art experience, oftentimes willing to pay the entrance fee for the experience. The artworks are usually paintings, drawings, photographs, some sculpture, and installation and conceptual artworks. The works can be “pretty”  or sometimes can be extremely provocative dealing with hard hitting social and political themes that might be offensive to some. Because it has a willing and often art educated audience, these kind of difficult themes can be expected and desired by the viewers. The viewers enter expecting to be provoked, or aesthetically gratified by “beauty”. Good art is not always “pretty” and there is always more to Art than meets the eye (more on this later). Most importantly, private art is usually the free expression of an individual artist’s feelings, aesthetics, and ideas.

President John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy started the 1% for art law

Public Art has a very different agenda. It is usually found in the public domain, available for everyone and anyone to experience…public plazas, along highways, in train and bus stations, on sidewalks, on the outside of buildings, integrated into the exterior of buildings, integrated into the landscape architecture of a place, on buses,  etc.  It is often found out of doors, but can also exist inside public buildings, like airports for example. It is usually funded by tax dollars via the 1% For Art programs found across America, but not always. There is a lot of privately funded public art as well, often found on campuses and sculpture parks among other places, that are donated by wealthy and interested individuals or corporations, usually in return for tax write-offs. …a benefit of American philanthropic tax incentives. (See a video segment from the program You Call That Art?! on the 1% For Art program on our YouTube Channel.)

Public art usually takes the form of sculpture or murals, but there can be other experimental forms that occur on the public streets, such as performance art.

Its primary agenda is to give voice to the community in which it exists. The best public art is usually NOT about individual artist expression, but somehow speaks to the place where it is sited and/or the community that has supported it (more on this later). Most importantly, it is available to ALL to see and experience anytime , from the art educated elite to the common man in the street, whether you want to see it or not. You may encounter it quite unexpectedly, without any foreknowledge that it even existed. You may not necessarily be willing or eager to engage with it, but there it is, right in front of you! Many times it is very publicly sited but is completely ignored by most passers-by. There is no admission fee except the original tax dollars used to pay for it. (How it is selected will be discussed in an upcoming entry). Sometimes it upsets the majority of the public audience and they cry for its removal. Often it becomes accepted into the fabric of the community over time and becomes an icon or symbol for the city or community. In Seattle, the much beloved Hammering Man is such an example.  The Statue of Liberty in New York City is another great example. Our show will focus on my opinions, the opinions of artists and art administrators, and the opinions of people we meet in the street, on the best and worst of Public Art in America, starting in my hometown of Seattle, then exploring other Northwest cities and then heading East across America.  “You Call That Art?!”  Welcome aboard!


10 2010