How other cities handle public art maintenance

How other cities handle public art maintenance

Cities across the country face a lack of funds to protect and maintain public art.

“Unfortunately, the work is often created, but no future funds are set aside for upkeep and maintenance,” said Liesel Fenner, public art program manager for Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C.

“When we look at our investment in city parks and playgrounds, we do look to the maintenance. Yet public art in that same space might be neglected for years.”

Compounding the problem is that maintaining art is not a simple fix — you can’t just send a crew out to scrub a bronze statue with soap and water or other compound that may damage the art. A professional conservator should oversee the maintenance, Fenner said.

The answer isn’t less art, she said. The artist-created installations, sculptures and murals found in public spaces around the country are essential to who we are.

“Public art expresses our culture’s values of that era and time,” she said. “We are communicating that to the future. We maintain our physical infrastructure; we need to maintain our artworks so that they can last into perpetuity.”

Here’s a look at what others around the country are doing to stretch dollars and conserve public artwork:

Oro Valley

The Town Council broadened the use of funds from the 1-percent-for-art program a few years ago, said David Williams, the town’s planning manager. If the one percent is $10,000 or less, there is an “in lieu” option — the money can be put in a fund for art maintenance in the town. If a project has more than $100,000 for the art, the amount beyond the $100,000 can be designated for the maintenance fund.

Portland, Ore.

Portland has a 2-percent-for-public-art program, with a percentage of that tagged for maintenance, said Keith Lachowicz, the council’s public arts collections manager. “It used to be one percent until it was realized that was insufficient to care for the pieces.”

San Francisco

The city has a 2-percent-for-art program, and a percentage of that is set aside for upkeep, said Susan Pontious, the San Francisco Arts Commission’s public art program manager. That money is augmented by an annual fundraiser called ArtCare. Through it, the city’s many art dealers come together to raise funds for art maintenance, reaching out to the private sector to support public art in the community. This year’s ArtCare fundraiser brought in $75,000.

San Jose, Calif.

The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs hired a conservator to develop a maintenance protocol that lay people can follow. “We train students on how to do maintenance. ... The city maintenance crew is trained,” said Jennifer Easton , the office’s senior project manager.


The Houston Arts Alliance’s Adopt-a-Monument program seeks donations from organizations and individuals to conserve and restore specific works of art.

Cambridge, Mass., and Seattle

The Cambridge Arts Council also has a part-time conservator on staff who oversees maintenance of public art works. Seattle, too, has a conservator on staff.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.