Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

The appetite for public art continues to grow.

For most artists, public art is a new and uncharted territory for making. Luckily, we’ve asked advice from working public artists that have excelled in the field, and we collected recommendations from those that do the commissioning. 

Just dive in.

You just have to dive in. Don’t worry so much about whether or not you’re going to be selected. There’s so many factors that shape the dialogue. Continue to submit.

Beyond that, look at a lot of work. Learn as much as you can about what is happening in the field and what the current conversation is. 

Vicki Scuri, Seattle-based public artist. Website.

Participate in conversations.

You don’t create in a bubble. You’ll want to be involved in conversations. You’ll want to go to the community meetings. 

Elizabeth Keithline, artist, curator, and Director of Rhode Island State Council for the Arts’ public art program. Website.

Think about others. But also, think about yourself. 

Are you a pleaser? You’ll need to have a pleasing personality. You’re not just making the work for yourself. To work in public art, you want to give the work to the world, and reach out to people. 

Public art is different from the gallery scene. It is inclusionary. You’ll always see “accessible and engaging” in RFQ’s these days. You have to dig down and find out what they mean by accessible and engaging. It means different things to different people. They don’t want a monolithic sculpture that you gaze upon and walk around. They want the art to be friendly, and accessible for people of all walks of life—you don’t need a masters in art history to understand the work.

Another piece of advice, pay yourself. If the project does not supply enough funds, you shouldn’t apply.

Lynn Basa, Chicago-based public artist and author. Website.

Worker Cottage Parklet, 2018, by Lynn Basa. Medium: Glass brick, steel, programmable LEDs, cobblestones, limestone, native plants. Fabricators: Douglas Masonry, RGB Lights, Vector Custom Fabricating

Build your skills in the community.

To stand out in the RFQ, show that you understand the community and are driven to be a part of it. The selection committee is looking for the best person for the community, and sometimes it is not about your artwork. Be genuine about making a connection to the community or communities you will be working with. 

If you are new to community engagement consider building your skills in your community first. If you’re not doing it in your own community, then why should you be considered for a project somewhere else? Think about doing smaller smaller projects or initiate your own projects. That could be a popup window installation or engaging with an audience in a gallery. By starting small you will both build your community engagement skills and gain an understanding of how public artworks are perceived by the public.

Patricia Walsh, Manager of the Public Art Network of Americans for the Arts. Website.

Impress the panel with your proposal.

This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised to hear how often it does not happen—show work that is relevant to the project. In a request for qualifications you are asked to show your current work. Sometimes a selection panel can make a leap, but you should provide the panel with as much relevant information and examples to help them translate your work, experience and vision into the project.

Lester Burg, Deputy Director at New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority Arts & Design. Website.

Experience the environment.

If you’re submitting to a public transit project, ride the public transit. Check out the art that is already installed. 

Additionally, get on mailing lists and submit to artists pools. In fact, LA Metro currently has an open call for its 2020 Artist Pool and its deadline for submissions is January 10th. You can find more info on Artwork Archive's call for entry page

Clare Haggarty, Senior Manager for Transportation Planning in Arts and Design at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). Website.

Be true to your intent and process.

I made works of art and practiced in the public environment, urban and rural, for years before my first commission. I’ve always responded to conditions that are unique to each site, recognizing opportunities as well as limitations. It’s important to develop an approach to the public realm as an artist, to communicate what it is that you contribute as an artist to a shared and communal space. There is no one way, thankfully. 

Patrick Marold, Colorado-based artist. Website.

Interested in creating public art but need a little help? Learn how fabricators can help you realize your vision.