Public Art Frequently Asked Questions

Why public art?

Public art strengthens neighborhoods by adding economic value, bolstering civic pride and reducing crime and blight.  Chattanooga Mayor, Andy Berke believes that “public art and creative activities improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Chattanooga’s reputation as an artist-friendly community also draws tourism and boosts our local economy.” According to Partners for Livable Cities, “Public art signals that care has been spent on a space which reduces feelings of danger and a real reduction of crime, violence and negative behavior.”

Public art has been a successful tool for revitalization in Chattanooga starting with our Downtown and 21st Century Waterfront and moving out to other areas like Main Street, Glass Street and MLK Boulevard. If incorporated early enough in our planning, we can intentionally leverage the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve specific community interests while driving a broader agenda for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place -- resulting in citizens that feel inspired and more strongly connected to their neighbors and our city.

What is the history of Chattanooga's public art program?

Planning for Chattanooga's public art program began in 2001 through a series of public forums in which over 500 citizens participated. The forums led to the adoption of Chattanooga' s 2003 Public Art Plan, a plan that reflects a community vision for public art.

The first major public art project was launched as part of the 21st Century Waterfront Project, a $120 million project that included the redevelopment of 129 acres along the Tennessee River. An unprecedented 1% of the waterfront budget ($1.2 million) was allocated to purchase public art, and resulted in 3 major public art projects, the Light Masts on the Chattanooga Pier, the Native American art installation at the Passage, and the First Street Sculpture Garden. A citizen committee appointed by the mayor was formed to oversee the project. Partner organizations included Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga, the City of Chattanooga, the Hunter Museum of American Art, and the River City Company.


Do other municipalities have public art programs?

Yes. Today there are over 350 established public art programs in the United States. These include federal, state, city, county, transit, and aviation programs. Most are legally mandated with 1/2% to 3% of various construction project budgets set-aside specifically for public art.

How is Chattanooga's public art program funded?

Public Art Chattanooga receives operational support from the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County. The majority of our project funding comes from private sources (local foundations and national grants). We do not currently have a mandated 1% for art through Council ordinance but we do receive project funds through the City's capital budget each year.

How is an artwork selected?

An Artist Selection Panel (ASP), made up of arts professionals, citizens, staff, and appropriate stakeholders is assembled to study the project and review artist qualifications. Once three to five finalists are selected, they are asked to develop concept proposals and make a formal presentation to the committee. The committee is responsible for evaluating the work for its aesthetic quality, construction quality, appropriateness to the site, and engineering/maintenance criteria.

What is the direct economic impact of public art?

Generally, a percentage of a typical public art project budget goes to:

  • Artist's fee/s, computer design work, travel, per diem and hotel
  • Insurance Suppliers, engineers construction and installation (materials, labor, contractor's fees, equipment rental, etc.)
  • Maintenance

According to Washington State Research, for each Public Art project money expended:

  • 6-6.6% is returned in sales tax (9.75% in TN)
  • 42-43% goes to direct purchase of materials
  • 9-10% is spent on overhead (studio, utilities, etc.)
  • 30-37% goes to pay salaries and wages of artists and subcontractors for fabrication/installation work

How much does the artist make?

Some people fear that the artist gets all the money budgeted and can do whatever they want with it. This isn't true. A professional artist is required to function much like an architect, develop a proposal, fulfill engineering criteria and specifications, and work with other artists and contractors to create and install the work. The artist receives a fee for their work as does the architect, suppliers and contractors – typically 10 to 15% of the budget.

What's an RFP or RFQ?

RFP is an acronym for Request for Proposal. RFQ is an acronym for Request for Qualifications - seeking background information and work samples from artists for future projects when a specific proposal is not necessary.

Can local artists compete for public art opportunities?

Yes! For fairness to all artists and adhering to City purchasing policy, Public Art Chattanooga implements an open, competitive process for all city driven projects. A selection panel comprised of stakeholders, citizens, City staff, and arts professionals is assembled for each project. These volunteer panelists review from 50 to 200 qualification packets submitted from local and national artists for each project.  Packets typically include a resume/CV, letter of interest, 10 images of past work and background materials.

We strive to support local artists and vendors whenever possible. We feel a strong commitment to support our City’s artists but we also have a responsibility to see that the strongest work is presented in and around our public spaces, regardless of where that work may come from. Local, Chattanooga artists have been commissioned for 47% of the 184 artworks in our collection. Local artists are included on the Public Art Committee as well as our selection panels for individual projects. We also source local artists and vendors to provide installation, conservation and repair services.

Artists working in the public realm have to know how to develop architectural plans, work with fabricators, architects and engineers, manage contracts, and handle a variety of unusual installation issues related to construction projects. With this in mind, working with experienced artists in the same way that you would want an experienced architect to design and build your house reflects responsible decision-making.

Unless a project budget is restrictive, no cities in the U.S. limit their public art competitions to local artists only. To increase the professional skills of our local artists, Public Art Chattanooga strongly encourages local artists to compete for national projects.

Before competing for public art opportunities, artists should consider the following . . .

  • Public art tends to be a highly competitive field which requires a high level of professionalism and project management skills.
  • Working in the public realm requires interaction with many different decision-makers including bureaucrats and elected officials, community members, construction professionals, site visitors, users of public space, and other designers – known collectively as stakeholders.
  • Working in the public realm requires patience and willingness to accept comments and critiques from non-arts professionals. It also requires flexibility, good negotiating skills and a willingness to work outside the studio.
  • Working on public art projects with public funding requires a high level of professional integrity as it necessitates the management of large sums of taxpayer money, sometimes over a long period of time. The artist also has to be prepared to answer to the commissioning agency and/or the media.
  • If an artist is awarded a project, they'll have to enter into a comprehensive contract with rigid insurance and legal requirements.
  • Originality is the artist’s responsibility and aesthetic integrity should be an artist’s primary goal. Artists are obliged to make every effort to make original, innovative art that is authentically relevant to the artist and to the circumstances of the project.
  • Many public artworks will be in place for years if not decades. Long-term maintenance and engineering are crucial considerations for which artists are primarily responsible.

Important Questions to Ask:

  • Are my skill set, career intentions, and area of interest appropriate to this kind of work?
  • Is interfacing with municipal entities and the public important to me and my work?

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Public Art Chattanooga

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