Public Art
Public Art

Harnessing the creative power of artists is one of the most common techniques to enhance local character and strengthen a sense of local identity.  Often artists can be drawn from the local area, but more importantly the brief must give a clear direction identifying the themes, stories or histories that should be responded to. Public art is vastly different from private or gallery art, and requires care in developing briefs and management.  

Key issues that must be considered include:

Key aims, objectives and messages desired.

Content that is appropriate for the public environment (for instance, current political topics are generally not appropriate and age quickly; adult themes or explicit material are likely to offend many and can’t be protected from minors).

Safety issues – the artist needs to consider potential for misuse (anything clime-able will be climbed on; removable parts will be removed; etc.) and structures must be fully engineered.

Maintenance issues – can it easily be cleaned or repaired? Who will be responsible?

Artists rights – to appropriation; rights to images; an artist’s moral rights are protected by law and need to be considered.

Owner’s rights – e.g. there may be legitimate needs to re-locate, decommission, or modify a piece: a suitably fair and efficient process needs to be in place from the beginning.

Artists should generally have the right to be consulted before a work is modified, moved or removed, but there need to be allowances for emergency measures such as if a piece becomes unsafe.


Public art instalments come in many types and categories

Isolated pieces – e.g. sculpture

Interpretative material  – e.g. murals, as part of functional elements such as bollards, seat, signs, lights (for example, see the tree guards in Meredith, or the gates to a park in Baw Baw)

Collaborative – e.g. part of a building or structures design element, where the artist works in partnership with the architect, engineer or designer.

Ephemeral works, such as temporary installations or festival material for example, the “sculpture by the sea” festival (

An issue of Concern: increasingly, managers of semi-public space are trying to limit rights to take photographs of public art in a public space; this potentially contradicts the tourism benefits of public art as a landmark.

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