Public Art

The pursuit of beauty and sensory stimulation within public space requires, among other things, the presence of public art. Artists are among a number of professionals whose skills can be brought to bear on improving the visual and cultural richness of the environment through a wide variety of measures, including structural fabric and infrastructure design, landscape and environment management, education and community development. 

Cultural Wellbeing and Public Art

Public art can make a significant contribution to the cultural wellbeing of a community and the physical landscape. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) explains that the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. It sets out three dimensions to sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. The social role is considered to include cultural wellbeing. 

The NPPF’s 12 core planning principles include a requirement that developments take account of and support local strategies to improve cultural wellbeing for all, delivering sufficient community and cultural facilities and services to meet local needs. 

Definition of Public Art

Public art is the term given to art projects created by professional artists, creative practitioners and craftspeople, that can be enjoyed in public spaces by residents of and visitors to a community, rather than in an art gallery or institution. 

Characteristics of Public Art 

Public are can be freestanding, fixed, permanent or temporary, and can take the form of:

  • Functional artworks – for use in the design of the environment (seats, gates, flooring, fences, arches, lighting etc.)
  • Decorative artworks – such as mosaic floors, wall murals, stained glass windows, textile hangings, photography, sculpture and paintings.
  • Artist residencies – leading to the creation of installations or exhibitions where the artist works with local communities, schools etc.
  • A shared cultural experience – such as performances or creative workshops.

The outcomes and narrative of public art vary considerably; however, consistent qualities of successful public art are that it is site-specific and relates to the local context. 

Aims When Including Public Art Within a Development

Public art might contribute towards cultural wellbeing through:

  • building community cohesion by involving the community, encouraging members to share ideas about and experiences of their lives and living in the new community;
  • developing a positive identity for the development, or spaces within the development;
  • creating links between the new development and existing communities or institutions;
  • conserving cultural heritage;
  • creating or celebrating local character and distinctiveness;
  • enhancing the design of the built environment; and/or
  • encouraging people to use public spaces in a new development.

Making Public Art 

Developers should ensure that the brief for the public art addresses this guidance and is as wide as possible, allowing artists themselves to suggest different approaches, concepts and ideas.

The budget for public art activity should be clearly set out in advance; as a guide, a figure equivalent to £250 per property for all developments over 20 houses is considered to be suitable.

The Local Planning Authority may have a policy and strategy to guide the commissioning of public art; if so, developers should follow this policy.

Developers should ensure that they have access to expertise in commissioning and managing the delivery of public art. There are a number of agencies that provide this service and that can help in selection of artists, managing design, contracting and briefing artists, fostering community engagement and evaluating results. The project budget should include any costs associated with these activities.

Community engagement should be built into the creation of public art. It should be considered at the earliest possible stage in the process so that local residents have the opportunity to help scope the project, select the artist and influence project delivery. The project budget should include any costs associated with this public engagement.

Programmes of public art should include appropriate evaluation that is shared with the Local Planning Authority and residents of the new development.

Ownership and Ongoing Maintenance of Public Art 

It is essential that ownership of any public art assets is clearly determined and recorded, as future liability for repairs and maintenance will follow ownership. Ownership should be agreed at the start of any commissioning process. Possibilities include vesting ownership with the relevant Local Authority, with a community organisation (such as a community management trust) or with a local arts institution.

Any budget for public art should include an appropriate allocation for ongoing maintenance requirements. Typically, the responsibility for maintenance will rest with the owner of the artwork. The developer should consider giving the owner of the public art a capital sum to cover future maintenance.

Page updated: 24/09/2019

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