Permissions and Permits
Permission and permits can often be the most frustrating and time consuming aspect of a public project. Sometimes the process can go smoothly, but it’s good to be prepared for the long haul. There are many factors to consider.
- Is the site publically owned or privately owned?
- Does the site have any special considerations, such as historical status or weak infrastructure?
- Is the project temporary or permanent?
- Who will maintain ownership and maintenance responsibility?
- What are the legal concerns or city permitting procedures?
The discussion should always start with the site owner followed up by a call to city officials to understand permit and regulation issues. Once permission is secured, a letter of agreement should be created and signed with the site owner or whoever is assuming responsibility for maintenance and ownership of the final project. If the project is to be sited on city property, it may be necessary to present to the city council or agency responsible for the site. It’s important to remember that public art often involves partnerships, compromise and communication. If you demonstrate good will and do your homework, chances are people will work with you, not against you. If you run up against a roadblock, it’s useful to pause and examine the root cause of the problem. It helps to be open to criticism, demonstrate respect for key stakeholders, and be open and flexible to adapting to meet needs and concerns expressed by others. This does not mean that you have to water down your ideas or do whatever other people tell you. Public art is a negotiated art.
Return Journey, while sanctioned by the community, actually had a number of hurdles to clear with the Minneapolis Park Board. They required that the artist employ a structural engineer to sign off on the installation plan. A scale model was presented to the neighborhood group, and then the Park Board for approval.
Because the commissioning agency essentially was the city for the Sanford Center and the process was done in close collaboration with the architect, contractor, and city representatives there were no major issues involved with securing the site. Building permits, etc were all done as part of the construction process. This can be a benefit to planning a public art project in conjunction with new developments. When the artist is at the table early on in the design process the result can be beautifully integrated and capitalize on equipment, building budgets, and other aspects that are already in place. It is also less expensive to add electrical power or plumbing early on in the construction process, rather than add it later.
1,000 Print Summer Project was primarily about getting permission to join in festivals underway. Artist Dave Machacek utilized events and audiences already gathered as part of his planning process. His workload revolved around seeking sites and getting permissions to set up his steamroller printing press. Most sites were happy to have the added activity and were willing to work with him. Having access to liability insurance made it much easier for Dave to gain permission. Everyone is worried about safety and concerned with risk management.