Today public art defies definition. It encompasses an increasingly wide range of artistic activity in the public realm. In Ireland, as in other countries, public art started out with the intention to “embellish” a new building or public space. Public art was synonymous with sculpture. All that changed in the late 1990s.
Following a report commissioned by Government on public art in 1997 , the newly established Arts Office in Sligo embarked on a pilot public art programme, Placing Art. The pilot programme took account of the key recommendations in the report to Government which led to significant changes in commissioning practices by local authorities in the following years. Placing Art resulted in artworks that were outside the norm of public art, such as film, performance and temporary installations. Engagement with the public and communities by artists and the local authorities was a distinctive feature of Placing Art.
The administrative mechanism devised in Sligo to apply the Per Cent for Art Scheme and support artists was a major and lasting achievement of the pilot programme. Sligo Local Authorities were the first to adopt policy on public art commissioning and again in 2004 when they produced a Public Art Plan, Art Best Placed. Another feature of the pilot programme was the production of high quality documentation, which was maintained through subsequent programmes. Please see footnotes for details of documents produced. All documents are available on this website.
From the late 1990s onwards due to the volume of capital projects delivered by Sligo Local Authorities, the Per Cent for Art Scheme provided substantial funds for the commissioning of artists and artworks. The next commissioning programme, Unravelling Developments, introduced a curator, Joe Lee for a series of ten commissions. The curated theme of change and development in the North West of Ireland throughout the first decade of the twenty first century elicited varied and always interesting responses from the commissioned artists. The artists and artworks reflected the ‘changing fortunes’ of urban and rural Sligo of the time and of course broader national and global matters also.
The Sligo Arts Service is committed to ongoing development and innovation in its commissioning practices. “Context remains half the work” (The Artists Placement Group, 1960s) is as true today as it was in the 1960s. The challenge now is to commission artwork that is relevant in a very difficult context.