Public art opportunities are everywhere, and I just took advantage of one!

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Public art is part of a civilized society

In the strictest sense, “public art” denotes an artwork paid for by tax money. But art in public spaces—parks, airports, shopping malls, schools, hospitals—may also be funded by private or corporate grants. Wherever the money is coming from, there are some basic commonsense rules one has to consider when submitting a proposal for a public art piece; It has to be family friendly. It has to be apolitical. It has to have the the proper mix of intrigue and beauty. It should require little to no maintenance. Outdoor pieces must be able to withstand the elements. Paintings, photography, fiber pieces or other two-dimensional art is often displayed in buildings with long corridors or spacious lobbies. Besides the obvious benefits of beautifying a particular space, unique works of art can also serve as landmarks for people navigating large or confusing buildings. No matter what language you speak, you’ll always remember to turn left at the giant purple goose.

Mike O'Reilly was one of three artists selected for Dexter, Michigan's 2019 Art Garden exhibition. This pyramid, made from powder coated steel wire balls, will be on display until June, 2020. It's located between the farmers market and the Dexter public library.

Outdoor Public Art

One source of inspiration for me has been an old college friend of mine, Josh Wiener, who has made a successful career out of building huge outdoor public artworks.  Check out his website.

One source of inspiration for me has been an old college friend of mine, Josh Wiener, who has made a successful career out of building huge outdoor public artworks. Check out his website.

The main hurdle I face when it comes to outdoor public art is the material I use. Brass and steel wire are prone to oxidization. For this reason most public art is made from either aluminum, copper or stone. Even plastics advertised as UV resistant can fade and degrade over decades. The powder coating process has been a real game-changer for the durability of my work, but it’s still possible for water to find its way to bare metal in places where wires have become separated, which is why, for now anyway, I’m reluctant to put the “Guaranteed Forever,” stamp on my outdoor pieces. Fortunately, many outdoor public art installations call for exhibition periods of one or two years. These opportunities usually mean a smaller paycheck for the artist, but it’s still a great way to give exposure to one’s work. Somebody might choose to purchase the piece, (assuming it’s for sale) and if not, it’s returned to the artist who can then make it available for another temporary installation. For less durable structures made from corrosion-prone materials, temporary outdoor public art installations allow for repairs or adjustments to the work before it’s moved to a new location.

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How to Find Public Art Opportunities

The best resource I’ve found for keeping abreast of the latest public art opportunities is Call For Entry. CAFE publishes a comprehensive list of RFPs (request for proposals), available grants, fellowships, contests, gallery shows and residencies. The project budgets are often listed right upfront, and some of them are shockingly robust. For example, I recently responded to an RFP for a new outpatient clinic, in Denver. The designated space was pretty small; a 10x10 ft. square on a wall, plus a short elevator lobby/hallway where a hanging piece could go. The budget for the space was $178,000, and I’ve seen budgets much larger, especially outdoor art projects where big money goes toward construction and engineering.

I am excited about the Dexter outdoor installation, but I’ll be turning my focus toward permanent indoor installations, which are better suited for the materials I work with. Keep an eye out for another post in which I discuss my process for creating digital renderings to accompany public art proposals.