Public Art

Public art is generated by artists that "endeavor to generate dialogue with the community, at times about the issues central to their lives." (AFTA, 2016). Public art can be reflective of and responsive to social political, and historical issues, cultures, and human experiences. It energizes and activates people and places, and provides a dynamic way for advancing community vitality and livability goals.

When people think of public art, they often think of large, permanent sculptures, such as the stone and bronze statues that are often found in city and town centers and parks. But public art is extremely diverse. It can be temporary or permanent and can include installations, performances, festivals, music, dance, theatre, paintings, text, chalk, graffiti, yarn bombs, found materials in the natural environment, and dazzling displays of technology, color, and light.

Types of public art include:

  • Site-specific projects: Projects that relate to physical, historical, and/or social aspects of a specific environment and which rely heavily on these aspects to inform the meaning of the work. This may include projects that mimic natural forms, colors, textures, and materials in the environment and commemorate something of social, political, or historical significance to that place.
  • Platform-based projects: Projects defined by specific parameters such as scale, duration, materials or placement, which support consecutive, temporary artworks. This may include projects that make use of video screens, billboards, and banners.
  • Expanded-site projects: Projects that look beyond a specific location to include dispersed forms of communication and public space. This may include projects that utilize cell phones, the internet, vehicles, projection, print, and other mobile means of communication.

(CCNC, 2010)

Who is involved in the creation of public art?

Local governments that invest in public art planning and programming do so because they see art and culture as intrinsically valuable to public life, and recognize its effectiveness in advancing planning and community development goals and objectives. These include:

  • enhancing the human experience in the public realm;
  • celebrating community identity and culture;
  • promoting positive community engagement;
  • promoting economic development and tourism;
  • advancing civic design objectives for parks, plazas, open spaces, streetscapes, trails, bus stops, light rail, and other public infrastructure; and
  • creating jobs in creative industries -- for artists, fabricators, engineers, construction workers, architects, and others.

Other sectors also have a role in making public art happen:

  • Artists may create public art as gestures, investigations, interventions, or statements on a small or grand scale in relation to diverse audiences and in response to calls for art issued by the public or private sector.
  • The public may seek public art as an opportunity to celebrate and express the identity and character of their neighborhoods, to beautify public spaces, to tell stories about and commemorate meaningful individuals, groups, or events, and to engage with each other and their city or town in playful and exciting ways.
  • The private sector may be in favor of contributing funds toward a municipal public art program and/or embrace the inclusion of public art in public areas on private land because they believe it enhances their image, or it provides valued amenities for residents and/or employees.

(CCNC, 2010)

Socially Engaged/Social Practice Art

View section on creative engagement here.

Strategies for Promoting and Integrating Public Art

Some of the strongest examples of public art today are works that exist as an integrated part of public infrastructure, on public land including parks, squares, and parking spots, and on open space on private land. Visit the Percent for Art page to review the ways in which governments and planners can promote the integration of temporary and permanent public art into the public realm and infrastructure through policies and programs.


CCNC's Public Art Toolkit is intended as a guide when planning a public art program or evaluating an existing one, and contains resources for the management of public art projects. The Toolkit includes links to examples and resources from around the world; detailed case studies and project examples of varying scales; illustrative photos from public art projects; and links to web-based resources.

The Forecast Public Art Toolkit provides information on and examples of all aspects of public art, from contemporary ideas and resources, to a step by step guide to the entire process of creating public art.