Public Art Commissions: Where to Find Them
Show me the work: Finding public art commission opportunities
So you’re at the point where you’re ready to look for ways to get your work out in public beyond the gallery. Studio artists are used to creating work first and then trying to find places to show and sell it…but what if you want to be assured of payment before you create? That’s where public art commissions come in.
There are over 350 public art programs in the U.S., commissioning work for plazas, city streets, universities, corporate campuses, parks, neighborhoods, roundabouts, and more types of sites than you can name. Commissions range from as little as $5,000 to over $1M, and can be permanent or temporary. Although some opportunities are limited to residents of the city, state or region, most of them are in fact open to artists living anywhere. All types of artwork are considered, depending on the site: murals, freestanding sculpture, art integrated into architecture, mosaic tile, sound pieces, portable works…again, more than you can name. There is a chance for everyone to get involved.
Sounds great…but what now? Exactly where’s the work? Unfortunately, there is no single location where opportunities are posted, which makes it a whole lot more work to track them down. Although it is possible to hear of opportunities randomly by word of mouth, most public art opportunities are offered by public agencies and therefore are subject to very specific procurement rules: to ensure fairness, they must be advertised. Some programs limit the advertisement to the city or state procurement website (which is often difficult to find and may require separate registration—not very artist-friendly!), but most programs with professional public art administrators will take the next step and advertise in places where artists will be sure to see them. These often include massive art opportunity sites and newsletters, some of which are specific to public art, but others may be open call sites that cover a range of art types. Sources of opportunities can also be other public art agencies, public art listservs, and social media.
The best place to begin your search is to target the city or state arts councils or city public art programs in places where you’d like to work. Almost every program lists current calls on their public art website and most have the option to sign up for email announcements of new opportunities, which is a time-saver. Start by looking at the websites of your own city of residence, then major cities and towns in your own state (search for “Art in Public Places” or “Arts” on the website), then branch out to the biggest cities in adjoining states—chances are that there is a public art program in each. States with concentrations of cities that have active public art programs include California, Florida, Washington, Oregon, Ohio, Alaska (yes!), Arizona, New York, Massachusetts, Nevada, Texas, Minnesota and New Mexico. Also, while you are at it, investigate their social media presence (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the most used) and Like or Follow them—you will often get faster notice of new opportunities when they push the notices to you rather than relying on remembering to check the website.
Continue your search for commission opportunities using the suggestions below, divided by type of listing. All sites are free to register for and use (or subscribe to) unless otherwise indicated. Some individual calls may charge a separate fee to enter. Most have a service where you can be notified of new opportunities via email.
Don’t forget transit art programs! Many public transit authorities, including airports, run public art programs that are separate from their city public art program. Some of the largest are listed below, but, similar to city art programs, you can target specific cities, find their transit or airport website and follow links to find information on the art program.
Finally, a number of programs don’t release open calls, but select their artists from registries they maintain (juried and unjuried). Often they send emails with lists of opportunities at other programs to artists in their registry. See our related post for an explaination of how registries work, where to find them, and how to submit yourself for consideration here.
Once you find a source or sources that provide opportunities that are useful to you, set up a schedule to check them regularly if they don’t offer the chance to sign up for email alerts. A monthly check should be sufficient for most sites, as deadlines are typically four to six weeks out from the original listing date.
Julia Muney Moore, Director of Public Art for the Arts Council of Indianapolis
PUBLIC ART SPECIFIC
4Culture (King County, WA): http://www.4culture.org/apply/index.aspx : Use tabs to review currently-listed local, state, national and international opportunities.
a-n Artists Information Company (U.K.): https://www.a-n.co.uk/jobs Online listing of current opportunities for artists in the U.K.; look carefully to see if they accept applications from the U.S.
Arts Council of Indianapolis: http://www.indyartsguide.org/classifieds/listing/4/14 Maintains a list of active public art opportunities in the U.S.; not comprehensive
California Arts Council: http://www.cac.ca.gov/opportunities/publicart.php Maintains a list of active public art opportunities in the U.S.; not comprehensive
Chicago Transit Authority: http://www.transitchicago.com/art/ Has links to their current (and frequent!) calls for artists on this site
City of Chicago, Illinois: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/provdrs/public_art_program/svcs/chicago_artist_registry.html Sign up to receive email announcement of new public art opportunities sponsored by the Chicago Public Art Program
City of Las Vegas, Nevada: http://lvartscommission.com/category/artist-opportunity/ Maintains a list of active public art opportunities in the U.S.; not comprehensive
City of Norfolk, VA: http://norfolkpublicart.org/artist-opportunities/national-opportunities/ Maintains a list of active public art opportunities in the U.S.; not comprehensive.
City of Palm Desert, California: http://www.cityofpalmdesert.org/index.aspx?page=638 Maintains a list of active public art opportunities in the U.S.; not comprehensive (view link at top to see Palm Desert’s own opportunities)
Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council: http://www.pittsburghartscouncil.org/component/taxonomy/term/list/62/144
MTA Arts and Design (Metropolitan Transit Authority, New York, NY): http://web.mta.info/mta/aft/about/opportunities.html
Public Artist: (http://www.publicartist.org) Free basic membership to view all listed calls and apply to calls managed by Public Artist; subscribe for $300/yr to maintain your own image and documents library that programs can search and find you. Public Artist lists both opportunities they are being paid to manage AND opportunities managed by others, although you must click through to another site to apply to the latter. Since it is free for administrators to list opportunities there, it is rapidly becoming a go-to site for artists.
PUBLIC_ART-L (listserv for the Public Art Network / Americans for the Arts): http://listserv.artsusa.org/scripts/wa-ARTSUSA.exe?SUBED1=PUBLIC_ART-L&A=1 Requires membership in Americans for the Arts ($50/year, join here: http://www.americansforthearts.org/become-a-member/individual-memberships) Membership also gives access to secure areas of the AftA website, including a field directory of arts service agencies, many of which have active public art programs.
Sound Transit (Seattle public transit agency): http://www.soundtransit.org/start Sign up to receive email announcements of new artist opportunities
State percent-for-art programs:
http://www.nasaa-arts.org/Research/Key-Topics/Public-Art/State-Percent-for-Art-Programs.php Go to each state link to find current opportunities, sign up for email notifications, etc. (process varies by state; some also list opportunities in other locations)
TriMet (metropolitan Portland, OR public transit agency): http://trimet.org/publicart/ Sign up for email alerts of new public art opportunities
Washington Metro Public Art: http://www.wmata.com/community_outreach/metroarts/call_to_artists.cfm List of public art opportunities with Washington, DC public transit (multiple modes)
OTHER ARTIST OPPORTUNITY SITES THAT LIST PUBLIC ART CALLS
The Art List: http://www.theartlist.com/ $27/year for “premium” online access to list of opportunities and other features. Free trial membership to view selected listings with limited information per listing (i.e., no contact information).
Art Opportunities Monthly: http://www.artopportunitiesmonthly.com/ Free registration to receive a monthly limited listing via email, or subscribe for $30/year to get the full monthly listing as a PDF file via email.
ArtistsRegister: https://artistsregister.com/opportunities.phtml Online listing of opportunities for artists; use drop-down box to select “public art opportunities” (note: this resource is not always entirely up to date)
CaFE (http://www.callforentry.org): Free to artists to maintain a limited image and documents library (not searchable), view a continually-updated list of opportunities, and apply to calls. Note: CaFE is a fee-for-service call management service and they only list calls which they are being paid to manage. Not every public art program uses this service, but a great deal of them do.
Chicago Artists Resource: http://www.chicagoartistsresource.org/calls-for-artists Targeted towards artists living in Chicago, it is not a comprehensive listing.
Competitions: http://www.competitions.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=37&Itemid=50 Online listing of mostly architecture and design competitions (many of which may be attractive to certain types of public artists), but sometimes there is a public art call listed as well.
International Sculpture Center: http://www.sculpture.org A basic membership at $110/yr provides access to an online list of exhibition and public art calls, plus a print or digital subscription to Sculpture magazine (10 issues/yr—extra $20 gets you both print AND digital), an emailed monthly members’ newsletter, member discounts on supplies and services, reduced admission to conferences and events, and a searchable “portfolio” listing on their site with images.
New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA): http://www.nefa.org/blog Monthly list of public art opportunities, mostly in New England or open to New England artists.
Professional Artist (online magazine): http://orders.professionalartistmag.com/adlisting/ Free online access to opportunities listing. Use categories at left to narrow listings to public art/percent-for-art calls. (note, this is not a highly popular site for public art administrators to list calls on, but there are generally a few listed)
Regional Arts and Culture Council (Portland, Oregon): https://www.racc.org/resources/calls-for-artists
SideArts (http://sidearts.com/): Free to view running list of open calls; free registration to receive a monthly email with new listings and create a profile page with up to 5 images of your work. Join for $50/yr (shorter terms available) to set up a custom email alert and hold up to 40 images in your “gallery” for others to search and find (note: all listings are paid and rather costly; therefore, many public agencies do not list all, or even some, of their opportunities on this site)