Best practices on the creation and removal of public art


Best practices on the creation and removal of public art

People of Culture

Public art is more than just a physical artwork–it reflects a community’s heritage, and is an expression of the artist’s creativity and soul.

The removal of an artwork can trigger an outpouring of grief, especially if the community was given little or no warning.

For different reasons, public art is not always intended to be permanent. But it’s also not meant to be removed without a thoughtful process that considers the feelings of people who find meaning in the art, while at the same time respecting the rights of artists and property owners.

Some of those rights are legal, as outlined in the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (a part of U.S. copyright law). But there are ethical and practical considerations as well.

Best practices on the creation and removal of public art

As advocates for public art, the Indy Arts Council recommends these actions and principles for those creating and hosting public art:

  • Create strong agreements that identify the relationship between the artist, the site owner, and the community, and that define their respective responsibilities.

  • Define the intended lifespan of the artwork. When that time passes, all parties can evaluate the artwork’s condition and decide whether to remove the work, invest in maintaining it, or replace it with a new artwork.

  • Clearly communicate any intent to remove a work of art and the reason behind it (for example, the meaning of the art has changed over time, the artwork is deteriorating, or new construction is necessary). Involve the property owner, the artist, and the immediate community in those discussions.

  • If the decision is made to remove the artwork, communicate a respectful transition plan to the public. Allow space and time for people to express their feelings about the loss of something meaningful.

  • Create a remembrance that features a photo of the artwork and tells its story. That way, its history is not lost to future generations. (Our public art directory is a good resource for learning about current and former public artworks throughout Indianapolis.)

Best practices on the creation and removal of public art

Questions about public art best practices?

The Indy Arts Council is available to help people think through how best to balance the intersecting needs of communities, artworks, property rights, and the passage of time. If you have questions, please reach out to Julia Muney Moore, Director of Public Art, at

Pictured in this article:
Etheridge Knight Mural by Elio Mercado, photo by Benjy Rose
“Dimensional Shadows” by Eduardo Mendieta
“Return to Innocence” by Cecilia Lueza