Public art program

A public art program is not an obvious way to encourage physical activity. However, if it is implemented the right way, it helps make a place more attractive which draws people to an area. Drawing people to an area encourages people to be out and about and at the same time, more physically active. A street art program can also contribute to increasing economic viability, encouraging growth, increasing community interaction and social networks.


Public art

Public art refers to contemporary art practice that occurs outside the gallery or museum system. Historically, public art was dominated by commemorative sculpture.

Current practice in contemporary public art involves diverse activities that integrate art and design into the public domain.

The preferred approach to commissioning public art is to include artists in project development teams at the outset of planning. This enables artists to create more meaningful work that has a direct relationship to the local environment.

Art + Place Policy

The Queensland Government’s whole-of-Government policy framework acknowledges the vital contribution public art makes to the experience of public places within the built environment of Queensland’s cities and remote and regional urban centres. It is generally recognised that innovative, creative and animated public spaces have a competitive economic edge and enhance community capacity building, social interaction and quality of life.

The contribution of art to wellbeing

Direct involvement by communities in arts activities can significantly contribute to individual and community wellbeing, and assist government agencies to realise their policies for community wellbeing and ecologically sustainable communities. (Mills & Brown, 2004)

In tackling complex social, environmental and economic problems affecting community wellbeing, governments have found that an integrated and whole-of-government approach is necessary. This approach is one that links policy, planning and delivery between government agencies and between different spheres of government.

Creative and collaborative activities can help agencies to implement their policies and contribute to individual and community wellbeing. These activities need to be integrated with, and respond to, social, environmental and economic development. Activities should take the form of partnerships between government and non-government agencies; communities and multi-disciplinary teams; artists, health workers, planners, scientists, policy makers and community workers.

The arts and creative industries make a crucial contribution to the long-term sustainability and economic vitality of Melbourne, and are growing in importance. Their contribution includes the direct value of arts activities and importantly, extends to the position Melbourne as a desirable and vibrant centre for business, residents, workers, students and visitors. (City of Melbourne, 2004)

How to develop a public art program

Suggested steps in developing a public art program are:

  1. Establish a public art program taskforce – the taskforce can provide council with advice on all aspects of council’s arts and culture portfolio and can include artists, arts and design professionals who live, work or are directly associated with a project area
  2. Develop an arts strategy – the strategy places emphasis on the importance of the creative agenda for the council’s future sustainability, including its economic vitality. The development of an art strategy can outline the council’s key directions and initiatives in supporting the arts
  3. Develop a public art plan – the plan provides a description of the major public art opportunities and sites; terms of reference for the selection of sites and artists; budget allocations to sites; a schedule of approximate dates of artist or art selection, installation and documentation; progress reports; and any anticipated needs for dedication, encroachment, maintenance and commissioning agreements. Include workplace health and safety procedures and grievance or dispute procedures as part of tenure and management processes.
  4. Develop public art guidelines – outline the general engineering and other considerations to determine how acceptable public art installations are on council streets and footpaths, such as: All proposed artwork must respect the primary function of the street, which is to enable the safe and orderly movement of pedestrians and vehicles. Streets also function as utility corridors, and access must be maintained for present and future services above and below ground.” (City of Vancouver, 2009)
  5. Source funding – there are possible funding sources for community public art including existing grant schemes
  6. Develop a marketing strategy – consider methods for promoting and marketing public art and develop a communication strategy. Identify applicable education, training and capacity building programs for public art participants.

Public Art in Melbourne

Melbourne is renowned for its Public Art Program, ranging from commissions to create art for unexpected corners of the CBD to exhibitions at the City Gallery or in the city’s parks. The Public Art Program features both permanent and temporary works, making a walk around the city an ever-changing experience.

Laneway Commissions – From July 2008, six site-specific artworks will emerge gradually, activating the city’s laneways. Scattered around the bustling heart of the city, the artworks will generate multiple layers of interaction, ranging from a casual glance to prolonged intimate engagement.

Past Temporary Artworks – The Environmental Commissions. In 2005, The Simple Life was installed in the City Square. Environmental Commissions give students an opportunity to create a major artwork that will be seen by thousands of passersby.

In 2004, the City of Melbourne hosted Yarra arraY’ SKINNED’ curated by Rose Lang and featuring emerging and mid-career artists who used a variety of media to explore what is under the skin of the city.

Art and physical activity

The Sculpture by the Sea program is one example of using public art to encourage people to be physically active. It started along the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk, where each October to November a public art exhibition is set up to encourage people to the walk. The Waverley Council also holds other annual events in the vicinity of the coastal walk to encourage people to the area, such as the Roughwater Swim and City to Surf fun run. Sculpture by the Sea is also held in Cottesloe, Perth and in Denmark. For more information on the Sculpture by the Sea program (see

Other sources of information

Case Studies