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The term public art properly refers to works of art in any media that have been planned and executed with the specific intention of being sited or staged in the physical public domain, usually outside and accessible to all. The term is especially significant within the art world, amongst curators, commissioning bodies and practitioners of public art, to whom it signifies a particular working practice, often with implications of site specificity, community involvement and collaboration. The term is sometimes also applied to include any art which is exhibited in a public space including publicly accessible buildings.
In recent years, public art has increasingly begun to expand in scope and application — both into other wider and challenging areas of artform, and also across a much broader range of what might be called our 'public realm'. Such cultural interventions have often been realised in response to creatively engaging a community's sense of 'place' or 'well-being' in society.
Such commissions can still result in physical, permanent artworks and sculptures. These also often involve increasingly integrated and applied arts type applications. However, they are also beginning to include other, much more process-driven and action-research based artistic practices as well. As such, these do not always rely on the production of a physical or permanent artwork at all (though they still often do of course). This expanded scope of public art can embrace many diverse practices and artforms. These might be implemented as stand-alone, or as collaborative hybrids involving a multi-disciplinary approach. The range of its potential is of course endless, ever-changing, and subject to continual debate and differences of opinion among artists, funders, curators, and commissioning clients.
Monuments, memorials and civic statuary are perhaps the oldest and most obvious form of officially sanctioned public art, although it could be said that architectural sculpture and even architecture itself is more widespread and fulfills the definition of public art. Increasingly most aspects of the built environment are seen as legitimate candidates for consideration as, or location for, public art, including, street furniture, street lighting, Lock On sculptures and graffiti. Public art is not confined to physical objects; dance, procession, street theatre and even poetry have proponents that specialize in public art.
Sculpture intended as public art is often constructed of durable, easily cared-for material, to avoid the worst effects of the elements and vandalism; however, many works are intended to have only a temporary existence and are made of more ephemeral materials. Permanent works are sometimes integrated with architecture and landscaping in the creation or renovation of buildings and sites,an especially important example being the programme developed in the new city of Milton Keynes, England.
Some artists working in this discipline use the freedom afforded by an outdoor site to create very large works that would be unfeasible in a gallery, for instance Richard Long's three-week walk, entitled "The Path is the Place in the Line". In a similar example, sculptor Gar Waterman created a giant arch measuring 35x37x3 feet which straddled a city street in New Haven, Connecticut. Amongst the works of the last thirty years that have met greatest critical and popular acclaim are pieces by Christo, Robert Smithson, Andy Goldsworthy, James Turrell and Antony Gormley, whose artwork reacts to or incorporates its environment.
Artists making public art range from the greatest masters such as Michelangelo, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró, to those who specialize in public art such as Claes Oldenburg and Pierre Granche, to anonymous artists who make surreptitious interventions.
In Cape Town, South Africa, Africa Centre presents the Infecting the City Public Art Festival. Its curatorial mandate is to create a week-long platform for public art - whether it be visual or performative artworks, or artistic interventions - that shake up the city spaces and allows the city's users to view the cityscapes in new and memorable ways. The Infecting the City Festival believes that public art should to be freely accessible to everybody in a public space
Online documentation 
Online databases of local and regional public art emerged in the 1990s and 2000s. Aside from electronic archives at national libraries (such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum), online public art databases are usually specific to individual cities or public agencies (such as transit authorities) and are therefore geographically limited. A few web-based databases have emerged from efforts to provide more regionally comprehensive online public art lists, such as the Public Art in Public Places Project, completed in 2010 for the Los Angeles and Southern California area and providing information on thousands of public artworks.
Other online database efforts have focused on particular public art forms, such as sculptures or murals. From 1992-1994 Heritage Preservation funded the survey project Save Outdoor Sculpture!, whose acronym SOS! references the international Morse code distress signal, "SOS". This project documented more than 30,000 sculptures in the United States. The records of this survey and much more are available in the SIRIS database.
Starting in 2009, WikiProject Public art has worked to document public art around the globe. While this project received significant attention within the academic community, it remains relatively obscure.
On 31 August 2012 Alfie Dennen re-launched the Big Art Mob project and was given control of the project from previous administrators Channel 4. The Big Art Mob in its new incarnation shifted focus from mapping the United Kingdom's Public Art to mapping the whole world's and gained instant widespread global press. At launch the site has over 12,000 pieces of public art mapped with over 600 new works mapped as of 05/09/2012.
At the national level the Public Art Archive™ is an online cataloging effort whose aim is to document public art collections in the United States, primarily those held by state and municipal Percent for Art and Art in Public Places programs, as well as outdoor sculpture and public art held by U.S. federal, private, non-profit, foundation, campus, transit, and other such related entities. A project of the Western States Arts Federation, a non-profit arts service organization, the Public Art Archive™ is the first comprehensive online database to centralize the documentation and broaden the access to public art collections which remain largely hidden due to their lack of, or buried, web-based presence on government websites. On September 2012 the Public Art Archive™ extended its reach to include Canada in its online documentation of public art collections.
Interactive public art 
Some forms of public art are designed to encourage audience participation in a hands-on way. Examples include public art installed at hands-on science museums such as the main architectural centerpiece out in front of the Ontario Science Centre. This permanently installed artwork is a fountain that is also a musical instrument (hydraulophone) that members of the public can play at any time of the day or night. Members of the public interact with the work by blocking water jets to force water through various sound-producing mechanisms inside the sculpture.
Rebecca Krinke's "Map of Joy and Pain" and "What Needs to be Said" invite public participation. In "Maps" visitors paint places of pleasure and pain on a map of the Twin Cities in gold and blue; in "What Needs to be Said" they write words and put them on a wall. Krinke is present and observes the nature of the interaction.
Percent for art 
Public art is usually installed with the authorization and collaboration of the government or company that owns or administers the space. Some governments actively encourage the creation of public art, for example, budgeting for artworks in new buildings by implementing a Percent for Art policy. 1% of the construction cost for art is a standard, but the amount varies widely from place to place. Administration and maintenance costs are sometimes withdrawn before the money is distributed for art (City of Los Angeles for example). Many locales have "general funds" that fund temporary programs and performances of a cultural nature rather than insisting on project-related commissions. The majority of European countries, Australia and many cities and states in the USA, have percent for art programs. The first percent-for-art legislation passed in Philadelphia in 1959. This requirement is implemented in a variety of ways. The government of Quebec requires that the budget for all new publicly funded buildings set aside 1% for artwork. New York City has a law that requires that no less than 1% of the first twenty million dollars, plus no less than one half of 1% of the amount exceeding twenty million dollars be allocated for art work in any public building that is owned by the city. The maximum allocation for any commission in New York is $400,000.
In contrast, the city of Toronto requires that 1% all of construction costs be set aside for public art, with no set upper limit (although in some circumstances, the municipality and the developer might negotiate a maximum amount). In the United Kingdom percent for art is discretionary for local authorities, who implement it under the broader terms of a section 106 agreement otherwise known as 'planning gain', in practice it is negotiable, and seldom ever reaches a full 1%, where it is implemented at all. A percent for art scheme exists in Ireland and is widely implemented by many local authorities.
Arts Queensland, Australia supports a new policy (2008) for 'art + place' with a budget provided by state government and a curatorial advisory committee. It replaces the previous 'art built-in' 2005–2007.
Public art and politics 
Public art has often been used for political ends. The most extreme and widely discussed manifestations of this remain the use of art as propaganda within totalitarian regimes coupled with simultaneous suppression of dissent. The approach to art seen in Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution in China stand as representative.
In more open societies artists often find public art useful in promoting their ideas or establishing a censorship-free means of contact with viewers. The art may be intentionally ephemeral, as in the case of temporary installations and performance pieces. Such art has a spontaneous quality. It is characteristically displayed in urban environments without the consent of authorities. In time, though, some art of this kind achieves official recognition. Examples include situations in which the line between graffiti and "guerilla" public art is blurred, such as the art of John Fekner placed on billboards, the early works of Keith Haring (executed without permission in advertising poster holders in the New York City Subway) and the current work of Banksy. The Northern Irish murals and those in Los Angeles were often responses to periods of conflict. The art provided an effective means of communication both within and beyond a distressed group within the larger society. In the long run the work proved useful in establishing dialogue and helping to bridge the social rifts that fuelled the original conflicts.
Public art sometimes proves controversial. A number of factors contribute to this: the desire of the artist to provoke; the diverse nature of the viewing public, with widely varying degrees of familiarity with art and its syntax; issues of appropriate uses of public funds, spaces, and resources; issues of public safety and civic oversight.
- Richard Serra's minimalist piece Tilted Arc was removed from a New York City plaza in 1989 after office workers complained their work routine was disrupted by the piece. A public court hearing ruled against continued display of the work.
- Victor Pasmore's Apollo Pavilion in the English New Town of Peterlee has been a focus for local politicians and other groups complaining about the governance of the town and allocation of resources. In this case artists and cultural leaders from the region mounted a campaign to rehabilitate the reputation of the work with the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art commissioning artists Jane and Louise Wilson to make a video installation about the piece in 2003.
- House, a large 1993–94 work by Rachel Whiteread in East London, was destroyed by the local council after a few months. In this case the artist and her agent had only secured temporary permission for the work.
- Pierre Vivant's Traffic Light tree (1998) near Canary Wharf, also in East London, caused some confusion from motorists when first constructed, some of whom believed them to be real traffic signals. However, once the piece became more famous, by 2005 it was voted the favourite roundabout in the country by a survey of Britain's motorists.
- Maurice Agis' Dreamspace V, a huge inflatable maze erected in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, killed two women and seriously injured a three-year-old girl when a strong wind broke its moorings and carried it 30 ft into the air, with thirty people trapped inside.
- 16 Tons, Seth Wulsin's vast 2006 work includes the demolition of the raw material it works with, namely a former jail, Caseros Prison, located in the middle of Buenos Aires. The prison is guarded by the Argentine military 24 hours a day, so that, in order to gain authorization to carry out the project, Wulsin had to engage a huge network of local, city and national government agencies, as well as groups of former prisoners of the jail, former political prisoners, human rights groups, and the military.
Public art faces a design challenge by its very nature: how best to activate the images in its surroundings. The concept of “sustainability” arises in response to the perceived environmental deficiencies of a city. Sustainable development, promoted by the United Nations since the 1980s, includes economical, social, and ecological aspects. A sustainable public art work would include plans for urban regeneration and disassembly. Sustainability has been widely adopted in many environmental planning and engineering projects. Sustainable art is a challenge to respond the needs of an opening space in public.
- Herlyn/Manske/Weisser: "Kunst im Stadtbild - Von Kunst am Bau zu Kunst im öffentlichen Raum", Katalog zur gleichnamigen Ausstellung in der Universität Bremen, Bremen 1976
- Ronald Kunze: Stadt, Umbau, Kunst: Sofas und Badewannen aus Beton in: STADTundRAUM, H. 2/2006, S. 62-65
- Florian Matzner (ed.): Public Art. Kunst im öffentlichen Raum, Ostfildern 2001
- Volker Plagemann (ed.): Kunst im öffentlichen Raum. Anstöße der 80er Jahre, Köln 1989
- Chris van Uffelen: 500 x Art in Public: Masterpieces from the Ancient World to the Present. Braun Publishing, 1. Auflage, 2011, 309 S., in Engl. [Mit Bild, Kurzbiografie und kurzer Beschreibung werden 500 Künstler mit je einem Kunstwerk im öffentlichen Raum vorgestellt. Alle Kontinente (außer der Antarktis) und alle Kunststile sind vertreten.]
- One Place After Another, Miwon Kwon. MIT Press, 2003.
- Public Artopia: Art in Public Space in Question, Martin Zebracki. Amsterdam University Press, 2012.
- Public Art by the Book, edited by Barbara Goldstein. 2005.
- Dialogues in Public Art, edited by Tom Finkelpearl. MIT Press, 2000.
- The Interventionists: Users' Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life, edited by Nato Thompson and Gregory Sholette. MASS MoCA, 2004.
- Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art, Grant Kester. University of California Press, 2004.
- Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, edited by Suzanne Lacy. Bay Press, 1995.
- Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics, Rosalyn Deutsche. MIT Press, 1998.
- In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture, Victor Burgin. University of California Press, 1996.
- Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures, Malcolm Miles. 1997.
- Spirit Poles and Flying Pigs: Public Art and Cultural Democracy in American Communities, Erika Lee Doss. 1995
- Critical Issues in Public Art: Content, Context, and Controversy, Harriet Senie and Sally Webster. 1993.
- Public Art Review, Forecast Public Art. Bi-Annual publication
- On the Museum's Ruins, Douglas Crimp. MIT Press, 1993.
- Art For Public Places: Critical Essays, by Malcolm Miles et al. 1989.
- Marching Plague: Germ Warfare and Global Public Health, Critical Art Ensemble. Autonomedia, 2006.
- The Lansing Area Arts Attitude Survey, by Suzanne Love and Kim Dammers. Michigan State University Center for Urban Affairs, 1978?
- Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide, by Dianne Durante. New York University Press, 2007
- Monument Wars: Washington, DC, the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape, Kirk Savage. University of California Press, 2009
- Public Art Dialogue, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, Bi-Annual publication
See also 
- Mary E. O’Leary (July 11, 2010). "Stored away for decades, artifacts from New Haven Arena coming back". New Haven Register. Retrieved 2010-10-19. "They also cast the arch by sculptor Gar Waterman that straddles Wooster Street, the seagrass fence behind the Shubert Theatre in Temple Plaza, the iron railing around the fountain on the city Green and the owl that sits on top of Engleman Hall at Southern Connecticut State University."
- Brett Bailey, former Curator, Infecting the City Festival
- Mary Helen, Miller (4 April 2010). "Scholars Use Wikipedia to Save Public Art From the Dustbin of History". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 16 October 2010.
- Big Art Mob interview
- Publico feature on Big Art Mob (Portuguese)
- Interview with Rebecca Krinke
- Percent for Art in NYC New York City Department of Cultural Affairs website. Retrieved September 4, 2007.
- Stokes, Paul (24 July 2006). "Women killed as artwork floats off". The Daily Telegraph (London).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Public art|
- Public art at the Open Directory Project
- Public Art in Public Places Project
- Infecting the City Public Arts Festival
- The Big Art Mob
- Public Art Archive™
- CultureNOW's MuseumWithoutWalls Public Art Database
- Public sculpture in Perth Australia
- Public sculpture in Cape Town South Africa