Public Art 101: Tips, Tricks and Busting Myths

     Hi Everyone, today I'm going to share some of my best tips related to public art. These things will be sure to embolden you and give you a leg up on the competition.

Look for Smaller budgets:  These can be great places to get your foot in the door. Sometimes, the more experienced artists don’t want to bother with the smaller budgets.

Apply as a team: Often they ask for “artist or artist-led team”. This can include architects, landscape architects, other artists, fabricators, etc. With combined experience, your application can be stronger.

MYTH: I can only apply to do public art commissions if I already do work that looks like public artwork.  

FALSE: you only need to show potential to do that kind of work.

TIP: show a translation of one of your previous works in a permanent material, if you don't already work in permanent materials. This can be just a small detail section to save on costs..


Above is an image of one of my ephemeral murals made from sugar tiles (left image) recreated onto ceramic tile.

(For the record, I’ve never done a permanent ceramic mural that looks like my sugar murals, nor do I ever want to. But by showing the selection committee the translation possibilities for materials, it opened up their vision of what I could do.)

MYTH: A jury won’t consider my work because it’s too political (or controversial…)

FALSE: Public art is not a one-size fits all industry. There are many different types of locations with needs for different kinds of art. Plus, your past and current work doesn’t [or shouldn’t, in my opinion] dictate what you do in the future. Committees often choose artists because they like their “approach”. Every committee is different.

As a personal anecdote, I used images of “The Wealth of Some, and Ruin of Others” (seen below) in my original application for the Quebec percent-for-art roster. This ephemeral installation addresses themes about sugar’s historical links to colonization and slavery. While this subject may not be suitable for the majority of percent-for-art programs, my application was still accepted into the roster using these images.


MYTH: If I’m anglophone, or present in English, I’ll never get picked for a project in Quebec.

FALSE: I’m living proof that this isn’t true. However, for any submission or presentation, it’s crucial that you be understood. This applies for any language differences. If a committee speaks a different language than the one you’re fluent in (whether it be french, english, german or swahili), invest in hiring a professional translator. Have your documents translated and consider doing a powerpoint presentation with translation on the screen. Being able to effectively communicate your ideas is key.

MYTH: I’ll never win if I’m competing against really experienced, or senior artists.

FALSE: I always say, the person who wins the commission isn’t the one who’s the “best” artist, so to speak, or the most experienced. Rather it’s the one who proposes the artwork best suited to that location, to that committee, on that day.

    I hope all of this is enough to convince you that the process of applying for public art commissions is more accessible than you may have thought, and that you’re looking forward to the next Public Art 101 where I’ll show you how to apply and give you some details about what happens when you’re shortlisted. If you like my posts and want to see more, come follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. I’m happy to answer all of your comments and questions below!