Reviewed June 2014
Andrea Koteles, Information and Outreach Assistant

Public_Art_Archive_1The Public Art Archive “houses tens of thousands of public artwork records in a single, centrally located database, making these works easily accessible to all audiences, including researchers, authors, academics, policy-makers, tourists, artists, administrators, and the general public.” The archive is a project of the Western States Arts Federation and overseen by a thirteen member Senior Advisory Committee. The focus appears to be primarily on public art in the United States.

Launched in 2009, there are currently 8,142 records documenting works of public art. Database records are freely accessible both via the Public Art Archive’s web and mobile sites. One can search and browse by a variety of terms including artist, collection, material, venue and year, as well as filter results. Many of the records contain multiple images along with links to supplementary videos, PDFs, and websites. In addition, each record includes a Google Map view, making it possible to get directions to and information about works while on-the-ground.

Public_Art_Archive_2In order to contribute content to the database, one must be an artist with an established public art practice or an art administrator affiliated with a public art collection. Records represent works that meet the following criteria:

  1. Public works of art that were commissioned, gifted, adopted, or granted for the purpose of being presented in public spaces for the benefit of the public.
  2. Sanctioned artworks that were commissioned through a traditional commissioning process, or acquired through an official acquisition process (especially works that are maintained through public funds).

The Public Art Archive currently has a call out encouraging participation. There are two ways for artists and art administrators to contribute content to the site. A Basic Registration allows access to the site for free. The Showcase registration, available for an annual fee of $750, allows administrators to create a collection with a customizable page and unique URL that enables searching within a discreet set of records. For more information see the benefits section of the website.

The archive uses a standardized metadata structure and records describe works in an organized manner providing information that is ordinarily difficult to access when viewing pieces of public art. Some metadata inconsistencies do exist across records, in particular date attributions associated with temporary works. Currently there is no way of determining when exactly the work is—or was—on display.

Public_Art_Archive_3Site development is ongoing for both the website and mobile site.This reviewer encountered a bug in the mobile site search function; a search for art in Toronto yielded zero results when in fact there are at least eleven records accessible through the website. There are also some design issues with the mobile site, for example the About section does not snap to the size of the mobile screen making it very difficult to read.

The project would benefit from clarifying its target audience. Currently the website seems geared towards attracting contributors. Much of the website is devoted to describing the project. A majority of the tabs on the site takes one to descriptions of the project. The site’s design and usability should make it an attractive resource to use, and that is not currently the case.

In sum, the goal of this resource is both lofty and admirable. While there is work to be done before this resource can be considered exhaustive, with the support and contributions of artists and art administrators across North America, geographic coverage will improve, as will the database’s breadth and depth. For those interested in keeping up to date with the database, sign up for the Public Art Archive’s bi-monthly newsletter.