Define Public Art


For the purposes of this website, public art is art accessible to the public free of charge.

There are many ways to fund public art in cities across the world, and many U.S. cities have public art programs.  Here are the guidelines for San Francisco.

San Francisco’s 1% for Art

San Francisco’s “Downtown Plan” adopted in 1985, was developed under the fundamental assumption that significant employment and office development growth would occur. New commercial development would provide new revenue sources to cover a portion of the costs of necessary urban service improvements. Specific programs were created to satisfy needs for additional housing, transit, childcare, open space, and art. The public art requirement created by this plan is commonly known as the “1% for Art” program. This requirement, governed by Section 429 of the Planning Code, provides that construction of a new building or addition of 25,000 square feet or more within the downtown C‐3 district, triggers a requirement that provides public art that equals at least 1% of the total construction cost be provided.

Effective May 2012, in certain projects, all or part of this requirement may be satisfied by either providing accepted art of the resulting 1% valuation on-site or paying such amount to a newly established Public Art Trust Fund (Fund), which is administered by the San Francisco Arts Commission.

San Francisco’s 2% for Art

2% of the gross estimated construction costs must be appropriated for art enrichment for public buildings, aboveground public structures, parks, and transportation improvement projects.

San Francisco’s Privately Owned Publicly Open Spaces (POPOS)

POPOS are publicly accessible spaces in forms of plazas, terraces, atriums, small parks, and even snippets that are provided and maintained by private developers. In San Francisco, POPOS mostly appear in the Downtown office district area. Prior to 1985, developers provided POPOS under three general circumstances: voluntarily, in exchange for a density bonus, or as a condition of approval. The 1985 Downtown Plan created the first systemic requirements for developers to provide publicly accessible open space as a part of projects in C-3 Districts. The goal was to “provide in the downtown quality open space in sufficient quantity and variety to meet the needs of downtown workers, residents and visitors.”

San Francisco Airport

In 1980, the San Francisco Airport Commission collaborated with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco to create an exhibition program at the San Francisco International Airport. After a successful first year, an SFO Airport Museum was established to produce exhibitions that would humanize the Airport environment and reflect the cultural life of the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the years, this program has grown from modest beginnings in North Terminal (now Terminal 3) to become an extensive museum offering cultural and educational programs in locations throughout the Airport’s terminals.

San Francisco Art Commission

The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) is the official San Francisco County arts council.

The commission was established in 1932. It is a city agency and the commission is appointed by the mayor. The Board of Supervisors must approve its budget.  This is the agency that was mentioned in the New York Times article that inspired this website.

The State of California also once had a Art in Public Buildings Grant Program that provided for art in all state managed facilities.  This program has been discontinued.