Public Art, Local Artists & Getting Paid

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I have expounded on the virtues of public art in the past and will likely do so often—it’s an important part of our cultural fabric and worth a little thought. We have published stories that illustrate how public art influences perception of a city and tourism (aka economy).  What we don’t talk about as much is the necessity of paying artists for that investment.

At the moment my thoughts are reflecting on public art that supports local artists. Recently PromoWest installed a series of murals on a highly visible exterior wall of the A&R Bar. These murals were all created by local artists and will be on view for a year, but more importantly the artists received payment for their work.

It’s easy for people to balk at the idea of paying for an art installation in the city. I have heard well-meaning people offer to publically display an artist’s work but not offer to pay for it—believing that the exposure for the artist is payment enough. Exposure is great. It’s important, but it doesn’t pay the studio rent. I would never ask my dentist to clean my teeth in exchange for a positive Facebook post and a tweet, so why do we do that to professional artists?

One of the many roles the Greater Columbus Arts Council plays is to help facilitate partnerships between artists and businesses that benefit both parties. Public art can transform utilitarian, barren public spaces into eye catching places that elicit engagement and pride. And ideally, artists gain exposure and payment— an amount generally commiserate with the intensity of the work involved.

For example, with the PromoWest project the artists chosen each received a $500 honorarium, they could submit work they had already created, and the work was to be digitally reproduced by PromoWest to install outdoors.

Another project that the Arts Council facilitated a call for last spring, was for installations in select Convention Center parking garages in the Short North. In this case central Ohio artists were asked to submit proposals. A stipend was provided to select groups to further develop their proposals, and a commission was negotiated for the final selected designs. These projects were potentially labor intensive and the artists were able to plan and negotiate for fair payment.

Sometimes the partnerships happen with other nonprofits and this can be a factor in how much of an honorarium is available, however, artists know up front what they will need to provide and what they will be paid.

For example, the Arts Council and the Columbus Arts Festival have a partnership with Shadowbox Live for the next Gallery of Echoes, which included a call to artists to submit work on loan to the production for an honorarium. Gallery of Echoes will be part of the 2016 Columbus Arts Festival, ensuring exposure that could lead to a sale on top of the honorarium, and for many artists the opportunity to collaborate with a local arts organization on a highly visible public art project, has its own set of rewards.

Another highly visible nonprofit project is at the North Market, which will soon install three new murals by local artists on their second floor.

This brings to mind one more point, other kinds of  partnerships that help make these opportunities possible—foundations and other charitable organizations. In the case of the North Market mural project, the Puffin Foundation West is funding the artist stipends.

Even nonprofits with limited budgets are finding ways to pay our artists.

I can’t wait to see these projects come to fruition. They, and the partnerships within our city that they represent, fill me with pride.

Top image from the Columbus Makes Art exhibition on the A&R Music Bar, includes work by Sara Mitchel, Tony Cochran, Mary Barcak and Greg Stang.

— Tom Katzenmeyer, Keep up with Tom’s adventures on Twitter: @tomkatzenmeyer