Permission in public art is a complex part of the public art process. On October 6, Mary Altman, Public Art Administrator for the City of Minneapolis, shed light on those complexities during a workshop at Forecast Public Art. Attending artists were able to ask questions that will allow them to more easily navigate the city systems in place to allow art and creativity to happen in public spaces.

What we learned

Because Minneapolis has a Public Art Administrator, there’s an obvious first point of contact when trying to establish site permissions for a work of art. This means that when an artist has a question about a particular site, they can start the conversation there. The City of Minneapolis doesn’t own all the public spaces we see around us — public spaces are owned by the railroad, the county, private businesses, MetroTransit, etc. Mary often knows who does own them and can help the artist make those connections.

We spent time discussing the lifespan of a work of art. Since nothing is completely permanent, how does an artist have a conversation about maintenance, conservation and an anticipated lifespan? Each project is unique in its needs and the artist is responsible for having that conversation with the site owner or the person commissioning the work. Both parties need to work together to determine who is responsible for maintaining the work, how long it will last and who will remove it. It’s critical to set lifespan expectations that are realistic for the materials being used and to select materials that will fare well in the Minnesota climate.

Temporary and permanent public art require permits in Minneapolis. According to Mary, the City usually says yes to proposals, but sometimes makes requests that increase safety, security, durability and so on. Going through the process of getting permission can actually strengthen the artists’ proposal leading to a more durable work of public art that is safe for the public to engage with on a temporary or permanent basis. With this perspective, the process of permitting can increase the artist’s ability to respond to the needs of the site and the needs of the audience — a critical element of the public art process.

As the conversation continued, we began to talk about how challenging and frustrating the process of establishing permissions for public art. It can be especially challenging in the case of a temporary piece where it seems it might be easier to produce an unsanctioned work. Mary reminded us that going through the process can be tedious, but it stretches the artist’s capacity for future projects. When navigating the system for a permanent piece or a more complex temporary piece, the artist will be equipped with a greater understanding of systems and processes that need to be considered, the networks of people they need to connect with and the skills to move through the process efficiently.

Generally speaking, Minneapolis wants to see more art happen and having Mary available to help artists realize their projects is a huge asset.