KEYNOTE: Cameron Cartiere and The Manifesto of Possibilities: Commissioning Public Art in Urban Environments by Jenn E Norton


The ways in which public art is commissioned in this country determine the kind of public art we get. Dr. Cameron Cartiere is a leader in an unconventional model of public art and curatorial practice. Rather than storming the front gates to bring about radical change, Cartiere is a leader in "back door radicalism". It's a long term process, but one that she hopes will create sustainable and profound changes, one cup of coffee at a time. Because change is really about bringing people (a lot of people) to the table for a conversation about choice, action, and outcome. 

Dr. Cartiere believes the perspectives represented by public art commissioning processes are far too narrow. How could any singular voice represent all that is public art? So, in 2005, Cartiere started thinking about the possibility of a manifesto for commissioning public art. She began by researching the history of manifestos, which often began in a bar, with one or two people hammering out their ideas, and then printing them up and sending them out into the world. Three years later, about 400 individual voices contributed to the creation of The Manifesto of Possibilities. The manifesto has since seen a global distribution of over 50,000 copies.  

We are very excited to welcome Dr. Cameron Cartiere as a keynote speaker in the upcoming Public Art: New Ways of Thinking and Working symposium. A curator and researcher specializing in public art, community engagement, urban renewal, and environmental issues, Dr. Cartiere is also the author of RE/Placing Public Art, co-editor of The Practice of Public Art and The Everyday Practice of Public Art: Art, Space, and Social Inclusion, co-author of the Manifesto of Possibilities: Commissioning Public Art in the Urban Environment, and co-editor of the journal, Public Art Dialogue

Have a look below at The Manifesto of Possibilities! And join us for Dr. Cartiere's talk on Friday, May 19th at 4:30pm at the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts (map)

You can register for the symposium here.



The Commissioning Process

    • Commissioning organizations should agree on a strategic public art plan or policy that outlines why they are commissioning public art before commissions are considered. Commitment and support for public art should be demonstrated throughout the organization. These plans/policies should serve as guidelines but not dictate the content or stifle the creative process.

    • Public and private regeneration bodies should invest in training and guidance for commissioners, planners, communities and artists about the different ways of working with art in the public realm.

    • There is no definitive or single ‘right way’ of creating art for the public realm. The commissioning process needs to recognize the diversity in approaches, interests and skills of artists and reflect this in the aims and objectives of the project.

    • Clarify at which stage of the planning process artists should be employed. Acknowledge that some artists prefer to be involved at an early stage.

    • Acknowledge the various partners and stakeholders involved and how they will work together (eg. architects, planners, artists, educators, other professionals, community members). The roles and responsibilities of all those involved in the commissioning process should be clarified from the onset and need to be expressed in a universally acknowledged and accepted form of contract.

    • Public art is not a universal problem solver for poor urban design or a magic formula to solve social injustice. It needs to be recognized that good public art is not a single substitute for good public policy.

    • Public art commissions should be driven by the unique context of a given project rather than overly prescriptive or generic briefs.

    • The commissioning process should allow room for and learn from rejection, refusal and negation of the commission by artists and other stakeholders.

The Artist

    • If specific proposals for public art are requested in advance, artists should be paid appropriately for the time spent on site visits and developing the proposal.

    • While a request for qualifications is an excellent process to narrow the field of potential artists in an open call, the review of previously completed work should not be the only basis for developing a public art project. Where appropriate, sponsoring opportunities for ‘first time’ public artists will allow for the continued expansion of creativity and artistic vision within the public art field.

    • Assumptions should not be made about artists based solely on previous work. Commissioners should remain open to the possibilities of artists developing new approaches and creating original works.

    • Artists working in the public realm need to be acknowledged and paid as professionals on a par with other members of the team, such as architects and designers.

The Curator

    • The curatorial role in public art commissioning needs to be recognised as supporting, co-producing and overseeing negotiation and artistic vision, from the concept to completion of a public art project.

    • Curators need to have access to funders and stakeholders to develop a working relationship throughout the commissioning process. The curator can ensure a balance is struck between risk and risk management enabling innovation and experimentation.

    • Investment in curatorial training and mentoring of public art administrators will help to facilitate creativity throughout the administrative process. Simply changing one’s title from ‘administrator’ to ‘curator’ is not an acceptable substitute for proper training and curatorial expertise.

The Community

  • The community’ (or ‘the public’) is not a uniform group of people. Every project based in a community needs to be aware of the specific audiences the work is intended for. These audiences may be particular age groups, ethnicities, economic backgrounds and/or communities of interest. Acknowledgement of who the public artwork or project is for and why should be transparent. There may be different audiences at different stages of the project.

  • Artists work with communities but not subsequently for them. The role of the artist is not necessarily to create communities but rather to make connections.

The Art

  • Public art is NOT a single art form. There are a multitude of approaches, methods and motivations for public art. Acknowledge and celebrate the depth and breadth of the field.

  • There is cultural value in commissioning temporary public art. The effects can be as dramatic, significant and sustainable as permanent works.

  • Public art is often placed in the precarious position of trying to address all stakeholders’ agendas and needs – recognise the limitations and possibilities of public art. Be ambitious but realistic. Remember, "context remains half the work" (originally stated by the Artists Placement Group in the 1960s).

The Evaluation

  • Evaluation should be integral to the process, embedded from the beginning, providing productive suggestions as a qualitative tool and NOT a pre-emptive checklist.

  • Acknowledge the varying notions of risk. Identify the different criteria for success and allow time for understanding these differences.

  • Evaluation should be transparent and honest.

  • Evaluation should recognise failure and the potential lessons that can be learned.

  • The evaluation process is not limited to the art; it can also include the stakeholders and the commissioning process itself.

  • Current timescales for evaluation are too short. There is a need for long-term investment in evaluation. The sustained ‘value’ of public art needs time to reveal itself. This is a process that may take years. Therefore the aim of evaluation should be informative rather than reactionary.

  • Evaluation is most effective when information is disseminated and shared. Commissioners should make publicly available evaluations, debates and archives of public art projects.