The Arlington County Public Art Program is one of the oldest public art programs in the country. The County has a long history of commissioning permanent and temporary public art projects on public and private properties.

Primary Partners:

Cultural Affairs Division; County Manager; Public Art Committee; County Arts Commission

Funding:

Public art is funded by a combination of philanthropic, public, private, and county funds. A majority of artwork is funded by non-county sources including the Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Power, the National Endowment of the Arts, and developers. County funds for public art are designated in the Capital Improvement Plan; the amount is negotiated every two years; funding from the General Fund covers staff and consultant salaries and basic administration.

Structure for Decision-Making:

The Public Art program operates as a unit of the Cultural Affairs Division, which is under the Division of Economic Development under County Government. Arlington County is an unincorporated city in the Washington Metropolitan Area that is managed by a County Manager and County Board. Administration of the public art program involves political and administrative responsibilities. The Public Art Program is overseen by an Arlington Commission for the Arts, which is appointed by a five-member elected County Board. The County Board has a political set of responsibilities — it oversees arts policy, the public art master plan development process, major contracts over $250,000 that are awarded to any entity, including artists, and allocates funding within the capital improvement program.

The Commission advises and directs the Board on administrative policy related to the arts. The County Manager enacts the policies that the County Board approves and is responsible for an administrative set of responsibilities, including the selection and approval of public art. The Director of the Cultural Affairs Division reports to the County Manager. A Public Art Committee, appointed by the Division, also reports to the politically appointed Arts Commission.

The Committee is composed of practitioners including planners, architects, artists, and other professionals; their role is to serve as informed arts advocates, to inform the direction of the program, and to provide oversight on design review and its integration into planning, landscaping, and infrastructure projects. The expertise of the Committee bolsters the work of the Commission.

Policy and Planning Context:

In 2000, the County Board approved a Public Art Policy and in 2004, adopted a Public Art Master Plan. The policy mandated the development of a public art master plan and guidelines for decision-making. The Program adopted its first set of administrative guidelines for county-initiated projects in 2005. The public art master plan is also referenced in the county’s comprehensive plan and open space master plan. Guidelines for community-initiated and developer-initiated public art projects are underway.

The public art administrative guidelines were recently updated in order to add the creation of an ad-hoc community advisory group or task force to the Public Art Committee’s review process for larger projects. This is intended to expand community engagement and responds to the creation of unofficial committees and task forces that have emerged with major projects. The Program has initiated and managed the involvement of ad-hoc site plan review committees and urban design committees to oversee the integration of art and design into approved public and private projects.

Successes:

The Public Art Policy and Public Art Master Plan have strengthened the framework for how public art is integrated into county planning and infrastructure and in both public and private developments. Notable successes and current developments include:

  • Public art projects are embedded in county projects in ways that align with planning and design goals. The Public Art Program Director serves as a liaison to planning and transportation — participating in planning and site plan review meetings to identify opportunities to integrate and align public art in county and private infrastructure and development projects.
  • Stronger communication with the Planning Department. Historically, the public art program has engaged with developers after the board has already approved a site plan for private development. The program is in communication with the Planning Department to participate in early discussions about good art and design principles so this knowledge can be integrated into the post-review urban design process of the urban design committee established by the program.
  • Expansion of county knowledge on context-based design and civic design. The program has offered a training for planning staff that brought in an artist and architect to talk about context-based design. The program is innovating the design review process as an opportunity to expand community education on the importance of civic design.

Learn more:

Arlington County Public Art website: https://publicart.arlingtonva.us/

Adams, Angela. How to Create Award Winning Public Art (2015). Americans for the Arts ArtsBlog website: http://blog.americansforthearts.org/2015/08/26/how-to-create-award-winning-public-art

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