Public Art FAQs

What is public art?

The term public art refers to a specific art genre with its own professional and critical discourse. It represents art in any media whose form, function and meaning are created for the general public through a public process. Public art is accessible original art. It may include but is not limited to permanent visual art, creative restoration or repurposing of unique architectural features, ornamentation or details, artist-designed infrastructure and structures themselves. Public art may serve a function, express a theme, or commemorate an important person, place or thing. It may underscore or provide a counterpoint to the architecture and surrounding site. It may serve as a landmark that adds definition to the City of Wichita. Public art should consider the site, its context and audience. Public art may possess functional as well as aesthetic qualities. It may be integrated into the site or building or presented as a discrete work.

What is the difference between an art consultant and an artist?

An art consultant is an artist or designer selected by the Project Architect/Engineer/Designer to serve as a member of a project team. The art consultant is responsible for the hiring and managing of the artist(s) for the project and acts as their representative as a creative and practical liaison between the artist(s) and the project team.

Consultants can provide a wide range of services, and are popular options for public art programs that operate with minimal staff or need an outside voice to offer advice about program direction, policies, or efficiency.  Often, public art consultants assist with program reviews and help shape and define the larger objectives of a public art program.  They can offer technical and practical expertise to accomplish those goals, and help create plans for the long-term success of a public art program.  Consultants can also be deployed to help educate other parts of a municipal government about the role and purpose of public art—another instance in which an outside voice may be able to have a greater impact.

An artist is defined as a practitioner in the visual arts generally recognized by critics and peers as a professional of serious intent and recognized ability. Indications of a person’s status as a professional artist include but are not limited to income realized through the sole commission of artwork, frequent or consistent art exhibitions, placement of artwork in public institutions, receipt of honors and awards and training in the arts. Such a person is selected by the Project Architect/Engineer/Designer or the Art Consultant to produce artwork for a specific project.

What makes a good public art consultant and public artist?

Producing public art will involve collaboration with architects, engineers, designers, public officials and others. A good public art consultant or artist knows how to collaborate and compromise and demonstrates a willingness to find creative solutions working as a member of a team.

How do I become a public artist?

Artists in Wichita interested in becoming public artists are encouraged to seek an artist/art consultant who has experience working as a public artist and willing to mentor or partner with an inexperienced or emerging artist. The best way to learn is through a mentor or partnership opportunity.

The City of Wichita’s Public Artist Registry identifies artists/art consultants who are willing to mentor or partner. It is recommended that interested emerging artists reach out to them and let them know of their interest to learn and partner. This might result in the emerging artist meeting with the more experienced artist/art consultant to review their portfolio and career goals. The mentor will serve as a guide through such things as the process of working with a project team, contracting to their advantage, identifying deliverables and expectations, working up a reasonable delivery of artwork, securing required insurance and getting paid. They may also gain experience in how to present their ideas and artwork to a project team as well as the general public.

What is the difference between an RFP and an RFQ?

A Request for Proposals (RFP) is used by an architect/engineer/designer that is seeking an art consultant or artist with a proposal for the conceptual approach to the project. An RFP would define explicit criteria for the project and would ask the art consultant to create and submit plans for the production of a desired public artwork.  Those plans are then evaluated by the commissioning project team, which would make their selection based upon the qualifications and criteria defined in the RFP.

RFPs can be an effective way to consider and evaluate the suitability of an art consultant when a limited number of consultants are invited to participate in the selection process, the criteria for selection is explicit and uniform. Proposals should only be requested when the project team is prepared to consider the proposal as a conceptual approach to the project and not the final design. Requests for Proposals ask artists to develop and submit their ideas for a commission. The project team should ensure the artist retains copyright of all ideas presented as part of the proposal, even if those ideas are not ultimately selected for the commission.

Requests for Qualifications (RFQ) asks art consultants and artists interested in a commission to submit information about their training, previous work, and other forms of evidence of their ability to create a public artwork. The RFQ and RFP try to strike a balance between giving the artist a free hand and also ensuring that the artwork produced is desirable and appropriate to the public and commissioning agency. 

Who owns the public artwork created by the artist?

The artist retains all rights under the Copyright Act of 1976 (17 USC Section 101) as the sole author of the work for the duration of the copyright. The duration of copyright in the United States is currently the life of the author, plus 70 years. 

Title to the artwork passes to the client or commissioning agency/organization upon their written acceptance of and payment for the work, but copyright belongs to and remains with the artist. In other words, although the client may “own” the work of art, the artist who created the work owns the copyright, including all ways in which that artwork is represented (photos, video, ads, logos, branding), other than in situ (on-site documentation photos). Artists may wish to register their copyright with the federal government. For more information on copyright, refer to Public Art Network’s Best Practices Guidelines.

One of the results of the Visual Artist Rights Act has been the establishment of a more formal and prolonged relationship between the artist and the commissioning agency.  This relationship is typically further enumerated in the contract for the commission.  

When there is an issue with an artwork, such as damage or changes to its site or context, then the owner of that artwork should communicate directly with the artist.  This benefits the owner and the artist, both of whom have a vested interest in the wellbeing of the artwork.  As a matter of best practices, if an artwork needs to be removed, then the artist should be given the first right to regain ownership, remove the artwork, or disclaim authorship, even if VARA rights have previously been waived.

Examples of common public art contracts:

Sample Request for Proposals (RFP)

Sample Art Consultant Contract

Sample Contract for Artists Working with Art Consultant

Links to additional information for artists and art consultants:

Americans for the Arts

Springboard for the Arts

Insurance for Artists

Health Insurance for Artists

Help to Become a Public Artist