Post & Photos Courtesy of Untapped Cities
Take a stroll around Lower Manhattan, and you might notice the abundance of artwork on display. While many might associate the area with finance and business, it’s also an accessible hub of artwork and has even been likened to an “open-air museum.” In fact, the walkable square mile south of Chambers Street is filled with permanent and temporary public art installations. Amon them: Isamu Noguchi’s Red Cube (1968), Arturo di Modica’s Charging Bull (1989) and John Seward Johnson II’s Double Check (1982) in Zuccotti Park.
With all this talk about public art and the prevalence of outdoor sculptures in New York City, we couldn’t help but wonder about the general guidelines for installing public art — what does it take to bring a sculpture or piece from the dark interiors of an artist’s personal studio into the light for all to see? Here’s what we dug up:
As noted in this Lower Manhattan Cultural Council guide, the specific permit an artist needs (and the process for obtaining it) for temporary outdoor public art all boils down to the type of project he/she is looking to carry out. After selecting a potential project site, the artist should consult with its owners/managers (if it’s a private space) or the involved agency/agencies (if it’s a city-owned space). In every case, the best procedure is to call the property manager. For privately-owned buildings or plazas, contact information can generally be found on plaques inside lobbies or public areas of the buildings.
Across all five boroughs, temporary public art installations in parks are commissioned through the city Department of Parks & Recreation. A departmental panel will review the proposal and discuss issues surrounding the durability and safety of the artwork. If a project is approved, a license agreement will be issued to the artist, who will be responsible for overseeing the installation and for securing the insurance and necessary funds.
Percent for Art, a city-run program, sets aside one percent of the budget for eligible city-funded construction projects for public art work. There is an ongoing open call for panelists to participate in the selection process for new commissions.
Sometimes, you might come across artwork in places as publicly accessible as the sidewalk. In this case, the artist or organization most likely reached out to the Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Permit Management, which issues permits for the use of streets and “transportation-related public spaces.” To apply for a permit, artists must visit the DOT office armed with insurance information and details about the project budget. If the structure or site is operated by a city agency, including the New York Waterway or the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), you should contact that specific agency. Projects in subway stations, for example, are commissioned through the MTA Arts & Design, which frequently puts out Calls for Artists.
The nonprofit Public Art Fund works with all of the above stakeholders (public agency to private developer) to install public art. Many of their projects also receive support from the Department of Cultural Affairs and New York City Council.
To view public art in Lower Manhattan, check out the many tours offered by Untapped Cities.