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Advanced Water Treatment Plant

San Diego City Council Public Art Policy


In 1992, the San Diego City Council adopted a public art policy which promoted artist involvement at the inception of selected City design and building projects. The policy development, and the philosophy underlying it, were the work of the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. This legislation was distinguished from other public art policy in the USA in the following ways:-

  • A percent of the project construction costs was not set aside in a separate fund as a budget for artwork.
  • The Commission and City department staff negotiated artist involvement in design and building projects on a case-by-case basis. This included determination of the artist's role, which ranged from serving as the design team lead to participating as an integral member of the design team to creating individual artworks that are not dependent on the project design and construction process.
  • Most artist involvement began at the inception of the project and was integral to the design.
  • Most requests for qualifications distributed to the potential lead architect or engineer included artist involvement as a requirement.
  • The artist could be selected directly by the lead architect or engineer, through a nominating committee and interview panel process, or by open competition.
  • The artist's concepts were included when the overall design of the project was first presented to the client and the respective community.
  • The artist's ideas were incorporated into the construction documents and bid as an integral part of the construction.
  • The artist was subcontracted directly with the lead architect or engineer.
  • The artist received a fee for design and negotiated fees for oversight of fabrication and installation on an as-needed basis.
  • Funds were managed by the client department, with technical oversight provided by Commission staff.
  • Commission staff implemented and monitored this policy to assure that a standard of excellence was maintained throughout the project.


The policy was jointly promoted by the City's Commission for Arts and Culture and the City Manager's Office to the City Council. It was taken up particularly enthusiastically by Susan Hamilton, Assistant Director of the Metropolitan Waste Water Department (MWWD). She saw it as an opportunity for her department to better serve the community by employing the artist's creative thinking and aesthetic sense in large, essential, and potentially unattractive, public infrastructure projects.

Susan was active in instilling a similar understanding and conviction in her staff, both by promoting the value of artist involvement and, more practically, by organising an impromptu bus tour for her project managers to see an inspirational capital project designed by a team including an artist. As a result, the MWWD's record for integrated public art projects outstrips that of other City departments. During the 1990s, the Department's public works programme for facilities above ground was $1.5billion.

Public Art Director

In implementing the City's public art policy, the Commission's then Public Art Director Gail M. Goldman took a low-profile but essential support and advocacy role within actual projects. Her role was to empower the key players in the project - the City department managing a capital building project and the firm contracted to deliver it - to implement the City's public art policy, and offer advice and support to them and especially the artist to ensure an effective outcome.

She would work with the Directors or Deputy Directors of City Departments with Capital Improvement Projects to identify projects suitable for the intervention of an artist in the design team, and would assist in drafting the Request for Proposals for design and engineering consultants to ensure that language on the City's public art requirement was included. She would comment on bids from competing contractors, or sit in at the interviews as a non-voting member to comment on the principal contractor's receptiveness to working with an artist, to explore the ways in which the artist might contribute, and to comment on the nominated artist's abilities.

Thereafter, Gail would help define the scope of work and fees for the artist and offer the artist support in negotiating unfamiliar terminology and procedures to ensure that they could contribute in the most creative and effective way. She would also liaise with the client (City Department) and contractor as needed to smooth the path in advance and would troubleshoot when conflicts arose to ensure that they were resolved positively.

Recent Years

When Gail Goldman left the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture in 2000, the public art role was taken on by the Executive Director of the Commission for Arts and Culture, Victoria Hamilton. By then the principle of involving artists in infrastructure and capital schemes was well established, and Victoria secured funds to conduct a public art master plan to ensure a mandated percent for art in every capital project undertaken by the City.

Victoria saw the initiatives pioneered by Gail as opportunities to test the concept of the artist in a leadership role in the design team of a capital improvement scheme, and wanted to continue to find these opportunities. But she did not see this way of working as the only, or even the most important means of implementing the public art policy.

As a result, there is now more emphasis on the artist's creation of a separate, identifiable work and as a collaborator within community-based projects, in addition to artists on design teams integrating their concepts within the overall design of a capital project. The Commission for Arts and Culture has put more emphasis on the selection of artists for commissions and overseeing the development and delivery of public art projects throughout the community.

The full Public Art Policy document is cpd 900-11 at

© Copyright Joanna Morland 2003.