Public Art 101: Where Oh Where to Apply?

    Over the past few weeks I've shared all of my tips and tricks with you, and you should be just about ready to start looking for places to use your newfound skills! At the end I’ll share the link again for the Quebec Percent-for-Art or “politique d’intégration des arts à l’architecture” application guide (annual deadline to apply for the pre-selected roster  was April 15th, but if you missed it you can still start your application for next year) but there are also many other places to submit applications or proposals.

     In other provinces, cities and municipalities the system is usually different and they often just have open calls for specific projects, but you should never be afraid to apply!  Some of the acronyms you’ll see are RFP (Request for Proposal), RFQ (Request for Qualifications) or EOI (Expression of Interest). As a professional artist who has been working in the public domain for the past 15 years, I can tell you that it is extremely gratifying to install your work anywhere where people can see it! My biggest commissions have been in Montreal but I have also completed public art projects in Saskatchewan, Australia and Brazil. 

As always, leave your comments and questions below and I’ll be happy to answer. I hope this list helps you find your own exciting public art opportunity, and who knows, maybe we’ll be on the next short-list together!

Helpful Links for Calls for Entry

Quebec Percent-for-Art

Call for Entries (listings all over the US, and some are open to International)

Artists in Canada

The Art Guide

Akimbo Listings (Toronto and area usually listed here)

The Vancouver Public Art website usually gives good listings

Signing up for newsletters (City of Ottawa, City of Calgary, City of Montreal, etc.)

Public Art 101: Demystifying the Application Process

     The Quebec Percent-for-Art program operates on a short-list system, whereby artists are short-listed from their roster of pre-selected artists. To be in their roster you must submit an application. The annual deadline to submit new applications is coming up next week on April 15. You can also update once a year on October 15. The application can be found here.

     The 3 categories to choose from are: 2D, 2D relief, and 3D. Below, I’ve summarized what can be included in each category.

The 2D category includes photography, painting, works on paper, textiles and glass. Also “new technologies”: video projection or digital work.

The 2D relief category consists of painting, ceramic bas-relief, relief sculpture, glass and métiers d’art (fibre and textiles, paper, mosaic).

The 3D category allows for free-standing sculpture, light installations, textiles, and new technologies.

As you see, some types of work overlap in different categories, so you’ll need to decide which category your artwork best fits. You can also apply for more than one category, but you have to submit a totally different portfolio of work for each. I’m currently registered in both 2D relief and 3D since I work in different mediums.

What happens if you’re shortlisted?

If you’re shortlisted from the pre-selected roster you get paid a fee (for most percent for art programs in Canada) to do a maquette presentation.

The fee (typically between $1000-$5000) depends on the total budget. You are generally expected to provide an artwork design, concept, budget, fabrication sample and a 3D physical maquette showing your artwork in context. I've included images below of 2 maquettes I made for winning presentations. One is for my mural at the McGill University Health Centre and another for artwork in École Katimavik-Hébert, both in Montreal. For the MUHC, the colourful windows was an important component to include in my maquette. For the school, the second-floor location of the proposed artwork and tree in the back of the school were included since they were important to the concept of my artwork.   

Who is the selection committee?

Generally it’s made up of 7-9 people:

- One or two people from the percent-for-art program

- The architect or rep from the architecture firm

- One or two artist representatives

- The building owner (propriétaire)

- One or two “users of the space”: people who work in the space

- Sometimes there is an “observer”, who is supposed to have “neutral” interests.

    In my next Public Art 101 in two weeks from now, I’ll share a list of my favourite places outside of Quebec to look for Public Art opportunities. I’m happy to answer your comments and questions below and if you’re interested in process shots and being regularly updated on what I’m working on, check out my Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest accounts.

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!


     This past year myself and landscape architect Eileen Finn were commissioned by the City of Pointe-Claire to build a work of art to be permanently placed in a space along the waterfront of Lac St.-Louis, just next to the Sisters' former residence. We were asked to create a piece that commemorates the significant contribution that the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame made to the community for a period of more than two centuries.

     The Sisters of this religious order primarily chose education as their vocation, so we chose to use books as the main visual element in the artwork, to signify learning and teaching. We felt a strong calling to engage the community in the process of constructing this commemorative sculpture so we asked for book donations from residents of Pointe-Claire to include in the mold for the sculpture. The mold is made to look like the negative of a bookshelf, and when the final sculpture is broken out of it, the texture of the books (especially those with embossed spines) will remain. The concrete that we’re using for this project is LaFarge’s Ductal® which is extremely strong and also made to catch very fine detail, so the imprints of the books will be captured exquisitely.

     In our initial research for this project, we found treasure in the archives of the Congregation of Notre Dame, and chose 12 books from these archives with beautifully illustrated covers that span from the 1800s to the 1970s. We had the covers digitally scanned and the images will be transferred onto porcelain to be inlaid into the concrete sculpture.

     The title of the sculpture, Impression, is a double signifier in that it speaks to the actual impressions that the books will leave in the concrete as well as the metaphorical impression that the Sisters have left on the community and on the young girls they taught during their years of service.

Landscaping features, as well as a bench, a rose bush and a cascade of violet-coloured lilies, will accompany the sculpture to create a welcoming space for people to sit and enjoy the view of the waterfront. The work will be installed in May of 2015 and an official inauguration will take place some time in June.

Here are photos of the mold-making process using the donated books, as well as some interior book images of a few of our favourites.

Public Art 101: What is the Percent for Art Program?

     First, a little background; I have presented maquettes and artwork designs for 10 projects and have been awarded 6. While building up my career as an active artist I spent 6 years working for one of the world's best fabricators for public art, Mosaika Art & Design. Here’s a video of my project, “Croissance (Growth)” being fabricated in their atelier.

    The information I’m sharing here will be related to permanent commissions primarily through “percent for art programs”. In Quebec it’s called the “politique d’intégration des arts à l’architecture”. The program is called “Percent for Art” because roughly 1% of the construction budget of a publicly funded structure must be devoted to integrated art or an artwork acquisition. This program applies to new buildings or expansion projects of $150,000 or more, for places deemed as private or commercial buildings. It does not pertain to roads, bridges, viaducs, or parking lots (unless part of a larger complex, like the McGill University Health Centre). Typical locations would be: theatres, museums, libraries, schools, university buildings, health centres, nursing homes, hospitals, sports centres, bus stops, courthouses, etc.
Quebec's program has been around a long time, but this same system exists in many other cities across Canada (like Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, amongst others). They can also be found all across the US. 

How is the percentage for art calculated?

It depends on the cost of the project, and the breakdown for projects in Quebec goes like this:

- $150,000 - $400,000: 1.75% (artwork acquisition between $2, 625 - $7000)

- $400,000 - $2 million: 1.5% ($6,000 to $30,000)

- $2 million - $5 million: $30,000 for first 2 million then 1.25% for remaining ($30,000 - $67,500)

- $5 million and over: $67,500 for first $5 million then .50% for remaining ($67, 500 and over)

    Next time on Public Art 101, I’ll give you some of my best tips and tricks and do some Public Art Mythbusting! I’m looking forward to reading comments and answering your questions below. If you like my content and want to read more, come follow me on Twitter!

Public Art 101: What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to be a Public Artist)

     Hi Everyone! I recently noticed the lack of user-friendly online resources for artists who want to find out how to acquire public art commissions. Over the years working as a public artist in Montreal, I’ve learned some valuable tips and tricks. I’ll be doing a series of biweekly posts here on my blog to share my experiences and hopefully to inspire those who may be having a tough time breaking into the industry.

     The things I’ll talk about here might seem a little overwhelming but will hopefully save you some stress and anxiety in the long run. Besides, as an artist you’re probably already used to stepping outside your comfort zone!

Be Smart With Your Budget

     I know of a few people (I won’t mention any names) who have lost out on making money from huge public art commissions because they weren’t careful enough with their initial budget. The total artwork budget includes your artist’s fee, copyright, fabrication, materials, insurance, installation, and possibly others. Typically, the artist fee is around 15-20% (25% in exceptional cases) of the total budget. Some of this should be allocated toward copyright, and some for your fee. The ratio of this can depend on how much work you will be doing on the project. Copyright allocation is important because this is the amount you are given for the copyright of your artwork design FOREVER!  It’s also important for tax purposes. Copyright fees get calculated differently. Ask your accountant.

     Often, there is no money left over for landscaping in the overall construction budget. If that’s important for the artwork, put it into your own budget. Landscaping always goes in at the end of construction so unfortunately, the budget allocated for that is often gone or over-budget by then.

It’s Not Only Creative Work

     You’re going to need some leadership and people skills to excel in this line of work. Expect to be a project manager: You’ll be liaising with administrators (from the government as well as the commissioning body), fabricators, architects, possibly engineers, other subcontractors, or employees. For commissions with Cities, there can also be a lot more interaction with City Council. In some cases, you may have to do a presentation at a Council meeting.

You’re Going to Have to Walk Your Talk

     You can expect that you have to do exactly what you proposed you’d do. For the Quebec program, there is almost no wiggle room. As they say, “it wouldn’t be fair to the other artists to modify the design”. So that means when you pitch your idea and your budget you’d better have done your homework and know that it’s a realistic budget.

     I know you’re thinking, “this seems like a lot of work, I’m not sure if I’m up to the job,” but I can tell you that practice does make it easier over time, and besides, you don’t have to complete the whole project from inspiration to inauguration in a single day! This is the kind of thing that works best if you break it down into little steps and stay open to lots of help from outside parties.

    Leave your comments, questions and tips for other artists below, I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback and I’m happy to answer any specific questions you might have. Also, check out my Pinterest and Instagram accounts for inspiration. Over the next few weeks we’ll get into the specifics of what the Quebec Percent-for-Art program is and how to apply for it.