Public Art FAQs

City of Durham Public Art Program1

What is Public Art?

Plaza 002The City of Durham defines public art as original visual art including, but not limited to, sculptures, murals, photographic renderings, mosaics, and electronic art installations installed on a permanent basis in spaces that are visible from public streets and pedestrian walkways. The art must be completely free of any admission fees, and be administered through a public process that provides opportunities for the community to share their input. 

In addition to permanent works of art, the City also allows original visual art installed on a temporary basis--usually for a period of at least 90 days--in public spaces designated as public art exhibition areas for temporary installations.

When did the City establish the Public Art Program?

The City Council created the Public Art Program in 2011. Like a number of cities, Durham established a Percent-for-Art Program to encourage and fund public art projects. With this funding model, each fiscal year the City Manager recommends an amount, up to 1 percent of the proposed General Capital Improvement Project (CIP) budget, to be set aside in the project fund for public art. This money is used to commission and install permanent public art at the sites of major CIP capital projects, or other locations determined by City Council. This fund is also used for maintenance and repair of existing public art works, project administration costs, and to fund temporary installation of works of art at designated public art exhibition areas. 

How does the City determine where to install Public Art?

The City’s Cultural Advisory Board, and its Public Art subcommittee, makes recommendations to the City Manager for the location of public art. For projects funded from the project fund for public art, priority is given to projects in the Downtown Development Tier including the Parrish Street Project Area, the Community Development Area outside downtown, and designated gateways to the city. This priority does not preclude projects in other areas of the city, and often times the Cultural Advisory Board receives input from residents about ideal locations that should be considered for public art.

For temporary, free public art exhibitions, City Council has designated spaces at CCB Plaza, Central Park, Five Points, Durham Convention Center Plaza, grounds of the Durham Performing Arts Center, City Hall, Hayti Heritage Center, Durham Arts Council, Carolina Theatre, Durham Athletic Park, and any other location as ideal sites for such art. Usually, the art is displayed in outdoor settings, but sometimes temporary projects will be held indoors due to the design of the work or weather considerations.

 Can private businesses or neighborhoods also contribute to public art?

Absolutely! The City proactively encourages private developers to voluntarily participate in the Public Art Program by installing public art on their private properties. In addition, the City has also established provisions in the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) that allow developers to exchange public artwork in place of street trees on their property, and to include public art signage in design districts without a sign permit.

Who is responsible for selecting the public art that gets installed?

The City’s Cultural Advisory Board is ultimately charged with providing advice to the City Council and the City Manager on commissioned public art works and to advise on whether works offered for donation should be accepted by the City. The Cultural Advisory Board has a designated subcommittee called the Public Art Committee to carry out these two functions, and to make recommendations to the Cultural Advisory Board.

The Public Art Committee is made up of a diverse group of residents, including professional artists and professionals in related fields, such as architecture and landscape architecture and members of the general public with knowledge or experience in public art projects or related activities. The Committee actively seeks diverse members of the population to encourage broad community participation. Committee members must live or work in Durham, with priority given to city residents.

What considerations are taken into account when approving an artist?

A number of criteria are involved in selecting a public artist.

Design Criteria. The review considers the creativity, originality, and aesthetic excellence of past work. In addition, past artwork must appear appropriately suited to the location, expressing a clear intention and point-of-view that is easily accessible to the anticipated audience.  

Expertise in the Intended Medium. Artists must demonstrate their experience in the required medium for the project. For instance, if the Call for Artists is requesting a sculpture, the Cultural Advisory Board will rank an artist higher if they have created sculptures in the past, versus a muralist who has never before worked in sculpture.

Previous Experience. After the Artist Selection Committee makes a recommendation for an artist, the City checks references from past projects to ensure the artist has a proven track record of successfully completing their projects on time and within budget. We also ask previous project managers about their experience working with the artist, especially their ability to actively engage the public; their technical competence working with the right materials, installation methods and maintenance; and the comparable scale of past work, including budgets and timeframe.

Local Artist Consideration. The Triangle--and particularly Durham-- are fortunate to have a diverse and talented group of artists here in our region, and we often give extra consideration to those local artists who also meet all of the other criteria. In fact, some of our projects are only advertised locally so that we can showcase and support the work of our gifted local artists.

How is the public involved in the public art process?

The City goes to great lengths to ensure residents are engaged throughout the public art process.

Before an artist is selected for a project, the City establishes an Artist Selection Committee for that particular project. The committee is comprised of neighborhood residents, local artists, design professionals, businesses, community organizations, members from the Cultural Advisory Board and Public Art Committee, and representatives from relevant City departments. We work to ensure that a wide variety of voices and viewpoints are included in the selection process, and that there is input from neighborhoods, businesses, and other institutions in the area in which the work will be installed.

After an artist is selected and approved by the Artist Selection Committee and the City, the selected artists are then required to hold public engagement sessions to provide opportunities for public input prior to concept development. Those sessions are advertised through news releases, on the City’s social media pages, in the City Manager’s Report, and on the City’s Public Art webpage.  The artist is expected to take the information gained from the sessions into its design proposal. In addition, the City also gives consideration to educational components of the project in its design review.

Can the public give input on the chosen design?

Yes. Before the final design is selected, the project is brought before the City’s Cultural Advisory Board and Public Art Subcommittee meetings. Both of those meetings are open to the public, and are a great way to voice an opinion about the proposal. In addition, for certain projects the City may hold an Open House where the community has an opportunity to view the design and provide feedback.

Who manages the Project Fund for Public Art?

Projects commissioned through the project fund for public art are administered by the City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) in conjunction with the primary department responsible for the location to be used. OEWD frequently collaborates with departments like General Services, Parks and Recreation, and Transportation as those departments are heavily-involved in managing the City’s infrastructure and buildings.

I am a local artist and interested in applying to one of Durham’s public art calls, but I’ve never done any work at that level. How can I become eligible for such projects?

Stay tuned! The City is interested in growing the capacity of Durham-based artists to be successful as art entrepreneurs. The City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development is committed to connecting our local artists to technical assistance that will make them more marketable for Durham public art calls, and public art calls around the world. Check the OEWD website for more information about this program’s launch.

We also encourage artists to take advantage of other capacity-building opportunities available throughout the Triangle. The Durham Arts Council and Triangle Art Works are two excellent sources for training opportunities. Durham artists should also visit the North Carolina Arts Council for professional artist development opportunities available to state residents.

Durham has a robust local artist community. How can they participate in this process?

The City of Durham releases a “Call for Artists” for each of its public art projects on its website. Artists should visit this website regularly to learn about any upcoming opportunities to participate in the process, or to apply to a public art call. In addition, the City sends out regular communication about public art, and artists can sign up to be added to that email list for more information. Artists wanting to be involved in the selection of public art can also apply to the City’s Cultural Advisory Board and Public Art Committee.

Where can residents and artists learn about current and upcoming public art projects?

Visit http://durhamnc.gov/publicart to learn more about the City’s public art project schedule, upcoming community engagement opportunities, and more. Residents who want to learn more about the process should also attend a monthly Cultural Advisory Board or Public Art Committee meeting. Visit http://durhamnc.gov/publicart for the meeting schedule, past meeting minutes, and upcoming agendas.

In addition, artists interested in applying for public art calls both locally and nationally should sign up for the following listservs, and check regularly for new postings: 

Who can I call for additional questions or information?

Brian Smith, Senior Economic Development Coordinator
City of Durham Office of Economic and Workforce Development
807 E. Main Street, Bldg. 5-100, Durham, N.C. 27701

919.560.4965, ext. 15205 or Brian.Smith@DurhamNC.gov