Public art

Public art can transform a place, mark an event, stimulate debate and generate cultural tourism.

Public art enhances the quality of the built environment and the sense of place within the community. It can be artwork in any medium specifically created to be experienced in public space and can include sculpture, painting, installation, multimedia, sound or performance; it may also be integrated into architectural surfaces and landscaping. 

Fiona Stanley Hospital

Fiona Stanley Hospital public art project

Art Gallery of Western Australia, exterior

Forms of public art

Public art takes on many forms.

Photo of a sculpture: Inside Australia, Lake Ballard Western Australia by artist Antony Gormley

Benefits of public art

Public art contributes to our understanding and appreciation of our cultural and natural heritage, enhancing our built environment and creating more meaningful public spaces.

Katena Architects of Air

Commissioning public art

Public art can be commissioned in a variety of ways.

Tottenham Court Road Station Artist Eduardo Paolozzi

Management of public art

Public art can be commissioned in a variety of ways.

The Wandering Artist Chris Drury

Percent for Art

The State Government’s Percent for Art Scheme encourages art in the built environment by using a percentage of a development’s overall budget to commission public artworks.

Grow Your Own, Perth Cultural Centre, Artist James Angus

Information for artists

How to get started making public art.

Benefits of public art

Public art contributes to our understanding and appreciation of our cultural and natural heritage, enhancing our built environment and creating more meaningful public spaces.

There is broad acceptance of the positive role art can play in improving the public experience of buildings and spaces.

Public art can deliver social, aesthetic, economic, cultural and heritage benefits which include the following:

  • contribute to aesthetic aspects of a site/location and the experience of the built environment
  • foster social cohesion and provide a means to engage with the community
  • assist in determining a site’s uniqueness and contribute to a community’s cultural identity
  • contribute to transforming urban and regional landscapes
  • celebrate and/or commemorate a place or an event and provide a contemporary response to historical and cultural contexts
  • express/reflect/reveal community values or how the world is viewed at a particular point in time
  • stimulate social interaction and invite dialogue (rather than passive observation or indifference)
  • foster collaboration between artists, architects and all those involved in the development and installation of public art
  • focus on social issues through temporary or ephemeral art
  • generate economic opportunities for artists and local industry
  • stimulate innovation in local and national fabrication technologies
  • provide impetus for further learning and visual and cultural awareness
  • reduce vandalism and the costs involved
  • stimulate cultural tourism
  • facilitate advocacy and engagement of art and culture with the public through its broad reach.

Forms of public art

Stand alone

Stand alone describes three dimensional, freestanding artworks rather than those embedded into the structure of a building or built space. The work may be a singular piece, a series of related works or an installation. Works of this nature have traditionally been associated with permanent materials (such as marble or bronze); however contemporary artists have expanded their practice to include materials such as found objects and multimedia.

Photo of a sculpture: Grow Your Own, Perth Cultural Centre, Artist James Angus

Integrated

Integrated artwork refers to art that is integrated into a building, or built space, such as ceilings, walls, glazing, screens and floors. The work has the potential to span both the interior and exterior spaces of a built structure. Integrated artwork may also assist in defining or separating space.

Applied

Applied artwork refers to work that is applied to an interior or exterior surface. This may include commissioned paintings, tapestries and murals.

Kalgoorlie Courthouse Artists Daniel Hume, Dawn Ranger and Valma Shultz
Tottenham Court Road Station Artist Eduardo Paolozzi

Installation

Installation art is where the artwork and the site are integral to each other. The artwork could be comprised of a number of elements but the ensemble may be viewed as a whole. The space may be created with a particular work in mind, or the artist may respond to a given space (for example Antony Gormley’s Inside Australia, Lake Ballard). In addition, installation art may include land art which can be described as art that draws attention to, or intervenes in, a particular environment and is often large scale.
Photo of a sculpture: Inside Australia, Lake Ballard Western Australia by artist Antony Gormley
The Wandering Artist Chris Drury

Temporary

Temporary art describes non-permanent work that may include temporary installations, performance art or dance.
Katena Architects of Air

Commissioning public art

Public art can be commissioned in a variety of ways. Following is a series of guidelines for what is considered to be best-practice when commissioning public art. While not all of the stages will be relevant for every commissioning model, the information may still be useful and help provide a context when commissioning public art.

There are three key roles in any public art commission:

The commissioner

The commissioner is responsible for commissioning the art project. The client usually is the commissioner, sometimes known as the commissioning agent. This may be a State Government agency, a local government authority, a private developer or occasionally an architect.

The creator

The creator is responsible for developing and producing the artwork. Most public art projects engage professional artists as the creator. A professional artist is an artist that typically meets a number of the following criteria:

  • has chosen to commit to a significant amount of time to their practice
  • is recognised by their peers
  • has regular exhibitions of their work
  • has work acquired by public or private collections
  • has had specialised training in the artistic field.

At times it may be appropriate to seek people outside of the above definition to carry out artwork commissions. This may apply in instances when young, local and/or emerging artists or students may be considered appropriate for a particular project.

It is advised that every project specifies the artist’s role and reflects this in the artist’s brief and resulting contracts.

The professional artist’s creativity is the central premise of any public art commission, however this may manifest itself in a variety of different approaches. Matching these approaches with the expectations of the client and the public is crucial to the success of any public art project.

The role of the artist may include one or more of the following:

  • participating as a member of the project design team
  • participating as a creator of art that responds to the immediate environment whether it be built, natural or cultural
  • creatively collaborating with various professionals, organisations and community groups
  • challenging standing conventions and status quo through creative input and vision.

The manager

The manager is responsible for managing and facilitating the commissioning process of the public art commission. Best practice recommends an Art Coordinator to take on this role. The responsibilities of the Art Coordinator are detailed in Appointment of Art Coordinator.

Percent for Art

Public art is a broad term for all art commissioned for public spaces.

It can be in any medium, planned and executed outside of a gallery or museum context, specifically created to be experienced in the public realm. 

It takes many forms, including (but not limited to) sculpture, painting, installation, multimedia, sound, performance, or may be integrated into architectural surfaces and landscaping. 

Public art is often located in highly accessible public spaces, but sometimes situated in isolated sites, or installed in public places with limited access.

Percent for Art is a program that produces public art. All Percent for Art projects are public art, but not all public art is a Percent for Art project.

Percent for Art programs are based on the percentage of a development’s overall budget being used to commission public artworks. 

Government agencies involved in Percent for Art

Most state government agencies strive to incorporate Percent for Art  in their construction projects.

The official Percent for Art Scheme was established in 1989 resulting in a Memorandum of Understanding between the Culture and the Arts and Building Management and Works (BMW), who jointly administer it. BMW are one of several agencies responsible for government building projects.

More recently the Percent for Art Scheme has been adapted for use by other State Government agencies. These models are often referred to as percent for art programs, strategies, or policies, as they are based on a percentage of a development’s overall budget being used to commission public artworks.

These agencies include:

Many local governments have public art schemes similar to Percent for Art. These however, are independent of State Government schemes.

Percent for Art budget considerations

For projects over $2 million under the Percent for Art Scheme, the current allocated percentage for public art is up to 1% of the overall budget for the build. This includes new construction and refurbishment. Typically, public art projects range between $20,000 to $400,000 in value but there are also major projects with larger budgets.

For projects valued at less than $2 million under the Percent for Art Scheme, public art can be considered at the discretion of the commissioning agency. The percentage varies according to the budget.

Private developers may consider allocating funds for public art using the percent for art methodology or allocate an amount that matches the scope of the artwork brief.

In some public art programs there is a cash-in-lieu option. In-lieu of commissioning an artwork, the artwork budget is handed over to the commissioning agent to determine the acquisition process and the location for artwork(s). This approach has been used by local governments, State Government agencies, and other organisations.

Percent for Art Scheme

The State Government’s Percent for Art Scheme encourages art in the built environment by using a percentage of a development’s overall budget to commission public artworks.

The scheme is administered jointly by the department and the Department of Finance’s Building Management and Works (BMW).

Since the scheme began in 1989, more than 575 artworks have been commissioned by the State, valued at more than $46 million.

The Percent for Art concept has been adapted for use by other entities such as, local governments and private developers as a model of best-practice. These are also generally referred to as percent for art programs or policies, as they are based on a percentage of a development’s overall budget being used to commission public artworks.

Local government public art policies

Many local governments in metropolitan and regional centres have developed, or are in the process of developing, public art strategies and/or tool kits.

Most local governments post Expression of Interests for local government public art projects on their websites and/or advertise Expression of Interests through different media outlets and/or Artsource.

In most instances, local government Percent for Art is connected to private projects, whereas State Government Percent for Art projects are public works.

 

Get started

Making public art

Most artists start by gaining experience with small public art projects. To gain experience, you may consider approaching an artist experienced in public art about mentoring, or working with them on a project.

Artsource have a well-established public art database and run a series of Professional Development Workshops (Public Art Masterclasses) for artists interested in becoming involved in public art.

The Tenders WA website lists government Expressions of Interest (EOI) for public art. You are required to register on the website to access the information.

Local governments often advertise EOIs for public art through local media outlets, their own websites and newsletters, and/or Artsource.

Find an artist

Artsource have a well-established database listing artists who are interested in public and private commissions.

You could speak to an experienced public art coordinator who may be able to recommend an artist, or several artists, for your specific project. 

You might also find an artist through existing works in public places or at events such as Sculpture by the Sea.

Find a public art coordinator

BMW has an approved Art Coordinator Panel which might be useful and can be accessed by government and non-government agencies.

Bring an artist into you project 

The commissioning process differs according to the scope of the project and the budget. Best-practice commissioning models are outlined in the Public Art Commissioning Guidelines.  

Best-practice public art commissioning models are  listed on the Commissioning Public Art page.  

The project scope and budget is often the main determinate when choosing the model most appropriate for the commission. Some projects utilise more than one commissioning model for a project where more than one artwork is required.

You might wish to speak to an art coordinator for advice or to manage the project and recommend an appropriate artist(s) for your particular project. Some contacts can be found in the BMW Buyers Guide with Art Coordinator Panel contacts.  

Alternatively, you can make direct contact with an artist through Artsource  via their well-established and comprehensive database. You may prefer to initiate a commissioning process through Artsource.

Become a public art coordinator

Please refer to the Public Art Commissioning Guidelines to gain an understanding of the scope of the art coordinator’s role.  

Building Management and Works advertises expressions of interest for Percent for Art art coordinators panel approximately every two years. However, you may wish to contact the Arts Program Manager by email on percentforart@finance.wa.gov.au and express interest in being considered for the panel membership.  

You may also consider approaching an experienced art coordinator about informal mentoring. 

Budget considerations

Typically, public art projects range between $20,000 to $400,000 in value but there are also major projects with larger budgets.

As an example, the Percent for Art Scheme allocates up to 1% of the overall budget for a build to public art (for projects over $2 million). For Percent for Art projects under $2 million public art can be considered at the discretion of the commissioning agency. The percentage varies according to the budget.

Private developers may consider allocating funds for public art using the percent for art methodology or allocate an amount that matches the scope of the artwork brief.

In some public art programs there is a cash-in-lieu option. In-lieu of commissioning an artwork, the artwork budget is handed over to the commissioning agent to determine the acquisition process and the location for artwork(s). This approach has been used by local governments, State Government agencies and other organisations.

Management of public art

Copyright, legal title and ownership

An artist’s rights are protected under the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 (the Act). Under the Act, all original artwork must be attributed to the artist.

The ownership of the public artwork and copyright will be determined within the commissioning process, the contract and the land on which it is located. Unless otherwise agreed, copyright of both the preliminary visual material and the work itself should be retained by the artist.

The Australian Copyright Council provides advice on copyright and ownership in relation to public art.

Maintenance

The ongoing maintenance of the public artwork is usually the responsibility of the owner of the land or building. The maintenance report is prepared by the artist at the end of the project and outlines:

  • a description of the artwork (including digital images and the date of completion)
  • artist/artist team contact details
  • a maintenance schedule and an agreement on who is responsible for the ongoing maintenance
  • the expected lifespan of the work
  • the method of construction, the types of materials used and details of the fabrication company (if relevant)
  • details of any electrical and/or mechanical systems installed
  • any specific instructions or products to be used when cleaning and maintaining the artwork
  • any instructions to respond to urgent maintenance issues such as vandalism.

Deaccessioning artwork

If an artwork has reached its intended lifespan, has been damaged or destroyed, or is no longer safe, there may be a need to remove or relocate the artwork.

This may also happen if the site on which the artwork is located has been sold or is to be redeveloped.

Before an artwork is deaccessioned, a formal process should be implemented which may consider:

  • the intended lifespan of the artwork
  • any conditions relating to the deaccessioning of the artwork, as outlined in the original contract
  • the opinions and advice of relevant stakeholders including the artist, maintenance contractors, the owners of the building or land on which the artwork is located or any other experts, such as engineers
  • community or cultural issues associated with the artwork, building, land and/or original commissioning process.

The artwork should not be removed, relocated, sold or destroyed without first notifying the artist. The National Association of Visual Artists can provide additional information regarding the obligation and rights of artists in this regard.

Page reviewed 17 December 2020