This is the last article in a series about public art. The covered question though is more than topical - how is public art financed and what exactly are the costs to bear in mind.

Maria Boicova-Wynants,

Mediator, Business Writer, Trademark and Patent Attorney

Show me the money:

How is public art financed and what exactly are the costs to bear in mind


In the last article of this series, I would like to briefly talk about the financial side of the public art commissioning process. In particular, I would like to put together the costs, which are to be taken into account at every step of the public art commissioning process and to sum up the possible sources for financing these costs. In other words, I am going to focus on two main questions: (1) what is the money needed for and (2) where can the money come from?


What for?

The costs associated with the commissioning of public artwork arise already at the initial stage of the preliminary proposal. The associated costs are the research costs; fee for the artist (or artists); potentially travel and lodging costs for the artist (in case s/he is required/needs to travel to the site); fees for the members of the art committee, art expert(s); expenses related to the establishment/management of a public discussion group; costs associated with fundraising activities (should they be required). All those costs are the financial responsibility of the commissioner and need to be budgeted for.

Also in the subsequent stage — the final proposal — the commissioner has to bear the respective costs. Some of the costs already listed above come back also at this stage. For instance, travel and lodging costs; fees for the members of the art committee and art expert(s); expenses related to the public discussion group. Also fee for the artist is to be budgeted for. Additional costs to potentially take into account at this stage are the research costs, which for the final proposal tend to be more extensive. Costs related to the creation of the scale model(s) and costs related to eventual communication and education linked to public artwork are other positions to include in calculations.

Finally, in the realization stage, which is frequently the responsibility of the artist, the costs to be foreseen are materials needed for artwork itself and materials required for production; additional investments related to the installation of public artwork (sometimes there might be a need e.g. for foundation strengthening or alike); insurances; permits; amenities, such as electricity, water, light, perhaps heating; security (temporary or permanent); fees to be potentially paid to the third parties for realization/installation of artwork; possibly project management costs; transportation. All this in addition to the permanent costs related to fees for the artist, art committee, art expert(s), public discussion group et.c.

Costs need to be foreseen also looking into the future, namely maintenance costs, costs associated with dealing with potential vandalism, et.c.

Therefore, aside from mere costs for the marble to create a statue and for “Michaelangelo” for the process of creation, public artwork commissioning involves a range of other associated costs. All of them require to be budgeted for public artwork to be successfully realized.

Where from?
There are different ways of how public artwork can be financed. Financing can be private, where a fund, a company, a group of individuals or even one particular wealthy individual (patron) is taking on all, or at least some of, the expenses related to coming into being of public artwork. Such a private individual could theoretically also be the artist him(her)self. Some artists use proceeds from gallery sales and other artistic activities to fund their public art projects. This is not the most common funding scheme, however, it can provide a range of benefits for the artist, some of them being visibility and potentially greater impact which his or her art can achieve by virtue of its public nature.

Another financing possibility is crowdfunding, where not just a group of artistically minded individuals, but the general public is involved in fundraising activity. Although this is not the only way to crowdsource, on a platform like Indiegogo there are frequently some artistic projects asking for crowdfunding. 

Finally, financing could come from public budgets. Also here, financing can be fully public, or be a form of public-private collaboration. 

The most obvious form of public funding is an art budget foreseen in a general state or a city budget. Sometimes there are special decrees for supporting art, sometimes there is just some money put aside for the purpose. Another form of public funding is percent-for-art programs. Percent-for-art programs guarantee that there is a funding stream for public art initiatives also in the absence of money for that purpose, for example, in a city budget. In essence, such programs require a certain percent of the construction budget, usually for buildings and large-scale projects, to be put aside to fund and install public art. The origins of this initiative date back to the first half of the previous century, where, for instance, in Finland percent-for-art program has been introduced shortly before the Second World War. Currently, percent-for-art programs with different nuances exist in many cities and regions around the world.

In some cities, there are also public funding programs other than percent-for-art. For example, in Houston, in American Texas, one of the sourcing for public art comes from the hotel/motel tax. In another US city, Phoenix, one of the sources for art funding is revenue from the state lottery. National Lottery Project Grants for art exist also in the United Kingdom. Those programs are different in the way where the money comes into the public budget in the first place, however, they are all types of public funding schemes.

Therefore there are numerous ways how public artwork can be funded, many potential avenues to explore. In some places, there are clear and straightforward ways to get financing, in some other, a degree of creativity is required, however, most of the time, possibilities do exist and just need to be investigated. I want to conclude with the quote from Forbes article[1]: “...public art can physically and mentally change a child's upbringing. According to the U.K.'s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, after engaging with the arts 82% of people in deprived communities in London enjoyed greater well being, 79% ate more healthily, and 77% engaged in more physical activity”. Therefore, wherever the money comes from, investing in public art gives a very high societal ROI (return-on-investment) and for the sake of all of us, public art must find its way to the public. 


[1] Williams, O. How 21 Elephants Came To Central London And Other Art Apparitions. Forbes, Feb 6, 2020 - available at

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