Making Public Art More Public

This week’s contributing blogger, Lori Goldstein, is the Public Art Archive Manager for WESTAF (Western States Arts Federation).


The public art field has greatly expanded as new partnerships and collaborative efforts bring public art to the forefront of mainstream culture. This growth has prompted the demand for a network of shared information about the incredibly diverse range of projects that exist across geographic borders to better inform future advancement. Public artists and art agencies necessitate a platform to share their growing collections to draw funding, encourage engagement, boost tourism, and disseminate information to wider audiences. To better inform decisions on bringing public art to unique communities, stakeholders and those involved in civic and community planning must survey the breadth of work available so they can ensure that artwork commissioned is well suited to meet the needs of those it will affect. Reviewing individualized collections and artist websites can prove challenging and time consuming and access to the data can be difficult to navigate, especially if you aren’t exactly sure what you’re looking for. The absence of a go-to resource for information about completed public art projects is what the Public Art Archive has sought to address through the development of a digital database.

VoCA Public Art Archive

Public Art Archive Homepage © 2017
Images: (left) A Bird in the Hand by Patrick Dougherty, Photo Courtesy Reston Public Art;
(top right) Open Room Austin by Roberto Behar & Rosario Marquardt, Photo Courtesy Philip Rogers & Shannon Wisner;
(bottom right) Crocus by Ed Carpenter, Photo Courtesy DEOA & Ed Carpenter

The Public Art Archive (PAA), a program supported by the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF), launched in 2009 as a central online repository for public art. Today, PAA’s original mission to make public art more public continues to drive the program. At no cost, public artists and collection administrators can submit information and multimedia content that describes and archives individual works of art. After years of collaboration, PAA has worked to build its inventory, one artwork at a time, into a robust database that now houses almost 12,000 artworks and over 30,000 images from close to 6,000 artists. This number grows daily as the PAA team is committed to mapping the international landscape of public art in its entirety.

VoCA Public Art Archive

Snapshot of Public Art Archive statistics as of April 6, 2017 © Public Art Archive, 2017

The PAA team, made up of public art professionals and data specialists, personally vet every submission, upholding the integrity and accuracy of information and following best practices in cataloguing art, guided by the Visual Resources Association. Each record is integrated with Google Maps so users can easily locate artwork on foot, and PAA Mobile™ allows access to the entire database on smartphones without having to download additional applications. Whether there’s interest in finding out more about an artwork you pass by every day, pinpointing the exact location of a piece you plan to visit, learning about the artist of a particular artwork, or performing research on the current public art landscape, PAA supports exploration for every level of interest. Filtered searches aid in identifying specific works by collection, artist, title, placement, worktype, media, or subject, and anyone with access to a computer, tablet, or smartphone can utilize this resource for free.

As part of PAA’s initiative to provide field-wide support to advance the professionalism of the field, the team consults on collection management strategies that help strengthen long-term programming. Collection management is a key component of the public art process; all practitioners have an obligation to protect assets for future generations, and developing organization-specific policies help ensure that public art is well cared for, properly maintained and remains valuable both monetarily and as a symbol of community identity and pride. “Well managed digital collections have the power to educate, foster creative collaboration, generate new ways of thinking, and enhance the experience of viewers. By contributing content to the Public Art Archive’s digital repository, you are uncovering access for viewers across the globe,” remarks Hannah Unsderfer, Digital Collections Librarian for Regis University and Data Curator for PAA.  Administrators and artists, representing over 1,100 collections worldwide, have worked tirelessly to add their collections, utilizing the database as a resource to achieve heightened exposure and provide a digital home for community assets.

VoCA Public Art

Albuquerque Public Art’s Collection Showcase page.

PAA continues to develop new features alongside its constantly growing inventory. The Collection Showcase feature is a cost efficient option for creating a customized webpage highlighting a specific collection. PAA now allows for multimedia uploads such as interviews, videos, and walking tour maps that tell a more detailed story about the work, enhancing audience experiences and creating more engaging programming. As the Public Art Archive expands alongside the momentum of the field, PAA is proud to support the work of those who bring public art to our public spaces.

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