Cambridge has a robust ‘percent for art’ public art policy. The provision of public art is a requirement of the city’s planning policy, which sees its inclusion as necessary to make new development acceptable in planning terms. The city’s policy centres around a Section 106 planning obligation, addressing the need to deal with the impacts of new development through compensation or mitigation. Impacts could include

Such impacts are seen to be felt on the site, in the neighbourhood and across the City, especially through cumulative effects.

Crucially, public art can compensate such impact through the creation of projects giving visual pleasure, and help to re-establish local identity and sense of place. In this way public art can also been seen as a form of community infrastructure.

What is Public Art?

Very broadly public art can be understood as a process of engaging artists’ creative ideas in the public realm and with the community. A useful working definition of public art is:

Public art is not a distinct art form; rather the term refers to permanent or temporary works of art in any media created for, and in the context of, the public realm, be it the built or natural environment. The only constant quality of public art is that it is community or site specific.

What is appropriate?

Art and art practice continually evolve. For example, digital and webbased projects may be as valid as physical projects for inclusion within public art proposals. Consequently, it is risky to try to define what art forms and functions are appropriate, whether delivered by S106 agreements or other means. Traditional, contemporary and experimental work should be supported and the choice will depend on the context and purpose.

One of the city council’s aims is to provide criteria and a framework for debate that can address a wide range of views. A critical requirement is that the commissioned work should be original, of high quality, designed for the community and produced or facilitated by an artist or craftsperson. In terms of delivery, projects may focus on the process as much as the product and be community based. Appropriate art works may include a combination of the following characteristics:

 How can you achieve the best public art for a scheme?

Follow these 7 steps:

  1. Plan it at the very beginning of a scheme. Start a three way engagement between the Council, the developer and an independent public art consultant who can help deliver best practice.
  2. Agree on the principles of how the public art obligation is to be fulfilled.
  3. Liaise early with stakeholders and organisations where permissions and approvals or where an Environmental Impact Assessment will be required;
  4. Agree what documentation is to be submitted at each stage of the process;
  5. Agree on your approach to community engagement;
  6. Agree the procurement and delivery of the art work including any required planning permission
  7. Set up clear decision making procedures in compliance with the council policy and advice.

For further free information or advice, contact our Cambridge office.