Public Art Frequently Asked Questions

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  • Why public art?

    Placing art in public places is as old as humankind. From cave paintings and pyramids to monuments and architectural design, art has always been a part of the public realm. In contemporary society, public art, and the community participation that often accompanies it, contributes to the identity of a city. In the same way that people work to decorate their homes, public art offers visual appeal, pride, a sense of celebration, fun, and often represents the health and wealth of the city it inhabits.

  • Do other municipalities have public art programs?

    Yes. Today there are over 350 established public art programs in the United States. These include federal, state, city, county, transit, and aviation programs. Most are legally mandated with 1/2% to 3% of various construction project budgets set-aside specifically for public art.

  • Where does the money come from for a percent for art project?

    All construction project budgets allocate percentages of funds for the different components of the project. To assure attention is paid to aesthetics, many municipalities have passed public art ordinances which allocate a percentage (1% to 3%) of the budgets of eligible capital construction projects for public art. Kansas City passed Resolution 52393 in 1970 stating that, “an amount equal to one percent of the engineer’s estimate of the cost of constructing or remodeling any municipal building be devoted to features of aesthetic ornamentation and adornment of such building,” and reaffirmed that Resolution with an Ordinance in 1986 that states, “establishing public art fund no. 635 for the receipt of contributions and appropriations for the aesthetic adornment of public buildings and property in accordance with resolution 52393.”

  • How is an artwork selected?

    An Artist Selection Panel (ASP), made up of arts professionals, citizens, staff, and appropriate stakeholders is assembled to study the project and review artist qualifications. The selection panel surveys the site/s, develops a call for artist qualifications and reviews the artist’s professional qualifications. Once three to five finalists are selected, they are asked to develop concept proposals and make a formal presentation to the committee. The committee is responsible to evaluate the work for its aesthetic quality, construction quality, appropriateness to the site, and engineering/maintenance criteria.

  • What is the direct economic impact of public art?

    Generally, of funds set-aside for a one percent for art project, a percentage goes to:

    • Artist’s fee/s, computer design work, travel, per diem and hotel
    • Insurance Suppliers, engineers construction and installation (materials, labor, contractor’s fees, equipment rental, etc.)
    • Maintenance

    According to Washington State % for Art Research, for each Percent for Art project money expended:

    • 6-6.6% is returned in sales tax
    • 42-43% goes to direct purchase of materials
    • 9-10% is spent on overhead (studio, utilities, etc.)
    • 30-37% goes to pay salaries and wages of artists and subcontractors for fabrication/installation work
  • How much does the artist make?

    Some people fear that the artist gets all the money budgeted and can do whatever they want with it. This is not true. A professional artist is required to function much like an architect – develop a proposal, fulfill engineering criteria and specifications, and work with other artists and contractors to create and install the work. The artist receives a fee for their work as does the architect, suppliers and contractors – typically 10 to 15% of the budget.

  • What’s an RFP or RFQ?

    RFP is an acronym for Request for Proposal. RFQ is an acronym for Request for Qualifications – seeking information from artists for several projects or future projects when a specific proposal is not necessary.

  • Can local artists compete for public art opportunities in Kansas City?

    Yes! For fairness to all artists, the Municipal Art Commission implements an open, competitive process for all one-percent-for-art projects. A selection panel comprising stakeholders, citizens, City staff, and arts professionals is assembled for each project. These volunteer panelists review from 50 to 200 qualification packets submitted from local and national artists for each project packets typically include a resume/CV, letter of interest, 15 to 20 images of past work, background materials.

    While we feel a strong commitment to support our City’s artists, the Municipal Art Commission also feels a responsibility to see that the strongest work is presented in and around our public buildings, regardless of where that work may come from. We are cognizant, and remind our selection panels that, “Whenever possible, the selection of artists from the Kansas City region shall be encouraged by the panels,” but that goal does not overshadow our commitment to the work itself.

    The Municipal Art Commission and staff work to help nurture the professional skills of local artists so they can compete for local AND national public art projects. Public art is typically more challenging than working in galleries. Artists working in the public realm have to know how to develop architectural plans, work with fabricators, architects and engineers, manage contracts, and handle a variety of unusual installation issues related to construction projects. With this in mind, working with experienced artists in the same way that you would want an experienced architect to design and build your house reflects responsible decision-making.

    Local artists have received several commissions in Kansas City. Of the thirty-six public art projects completed to date, twelve have included local and regional artists. Additionally, the Municipal Art Commission partners with the Avenue of the Arts Foundation to commission six area artists to create temporary public artworks for exhibit in downtown Kansas City each year – a valuable, hands-on opportunity for artists interested in exploring public art professionally.

    Unless a project budget is restrictive, no cities in the U.S. limit their public art competitions to local artists only. To increase the professional skills of our local artists, the Municipal Art Commission strongly encourages local artists to compete for national projects.

Before competing for public art opportunities, artists should consider the following...

  • Public art tends to be a highly competitive field which requires a high level of professionalism and project management skills.
  • Working in the public realm requires interaction with many different decision-makers including bureaucrats and elected officials, community members, construction professionals, site visitors, users of public space, and other designers – known collectively as stakeholders.
  • Working in the public realm requires patience and willingness to accept comments and critiques from non-arts professionals. It also requires flexibility, good negotiating skills and a willingness to work outside the studio.
  • Working on public art projects with public funding requires a high level of professional integrity as it necessitates the management of large sums of taxpayer money, sometimes over a long period of time. The artist also has to be prepared to answer to the commissioning agency and/or the media.
  • If an artist is awarded a project, they’ll have to enter into a comprehensive contract with rigid insurance and legal requirements.
  • Originality is the artist’’s responsibility and aesthetic integrity should be an artist’’s primary goal. Artists are obliged to make every effort to make original, innovative art that is authentically relevant to the artist and to the circumstances of the project.
  • Many public artworks will be in place for years if not decades. Long-term maintenance and engineering are crucial considerations for which artists are primarily responsible.

Important Questions to Ask:

  • Are my skill set, career intentions, and area of interest appropriate to this kind of work?
  • Is interfacing with municipal entities and the public important to me and my work?