Public Art Program

The Program 
What Artists Do
Art and (Re)Development 
Becoming Involved 
Seeing Public Art in Richmond

The city of Richmond is home to over 30 works of public art. With a tradition begun in the 1940s, the City has steadily acquired a unique collection of artwork, ranging from paintings and sculpture to landmark murals and artist-designed community gardens. In 1997, the Richmond City Council, recognizing the cultural, aesthetic, and economic benefits that the arts bring to a community, adopted a "Percent for Art" resolution, which sets aside 1.5% of eligible capital improvement project budgets for the acquisition of public art. The adoption of this resolution formalized the city’s long-standing commitment to the arts, and provides exciting opportunities for artists to create works of art for city buildings, parks, streetscapes, memorials, and other civic amenities.

The Program
The majority of projects initiated by the Public Art Program are linked to City and Redevelopment Agency Capital Improvement projects. However, a proposal is under way that will add a Private Development component to the current Percent for Art ordinance, charging a 1% for Public Art fee to private developers on applicable projects. Each budget year, the Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC) reviews the City's Capital Improvement Projects approved by the City Council and develops a public art plan that identifies sites, concepts, and potential approaches for integrating public art into these capital projects. The public art plan is submitted first to the Arts and Culture Commission, and then to the City Council for review and approval. Once the projects are approved, staff begins the task of developing project parameters, initiating the artist selection process, and coordinating the artist's work with the work of other professionals involved in the project.

Participating in Public Art
Artists and community members may participate in public art activities in various ways. Most often, public art projects are announced through an open competition and artists are invited to submit qualifications. A selection panel is convened to review artists' applications and to recommend one or more artists for the project. The selection panel typically includes visual artists, arts professionals, representatives from client agencies, and members of the community where the project will take place. The panel's recommendation is forwarded to the PAAC and to the Arts and Culture Commission. Upon approval, the artist is issued a contract, which describes the artist's scope of work and delineates how he or she will interact with the PAAC, Commission, and community.

The Public Art Program emphasizes and encourages community involvement and participation in all of its activities. Since its inception, the program has collaborated with local schools, arts organizations, neighborhood councils, and city agencies to plan and implement a variety of public art projects.

These collaborations have resulted in a number of innovative ventures, including:

  • A public art lecture series presented at neighborhood council meetings, which heightened community awareness of, and appreciation for, the visual arts.
  • Annual technical assistance workshops for artists which help to advance their knowledge of, and skills in, public art.
  • A "mini-grant" program, which awarded grants to community organizations for performing and visual arts activities. Public Art projects funded by the mini-grant program include the "Richmond Annex" mural at the Cutting/I-80 overpass, a tile and landscaping project in Atchison Village, an artist-in-residency program at Washington School and at the Point Richmond Community Center, and "Parchester Village Touches the World," a mural designed by Kemit Amenophis and the children of Parchester Village.
  • “Past Perfect on Macdonald Avenue," "Revisionist History of San Pablo Avenue,"and "Century Xrossing," three landmark murals by Richmond artist John Wehrle, done in collaboration between the Arts and Culture Commission and the Richmond Redevelopment Agency.

What Artists Do

Monuments and Memorials
One of Richmond's largest and most complex projects is the "Rosie the Riveter" Memorial, designed by artist Susan Schwartzenberg and landscape architect Cheryl Barton. Located at Marina Bay, the Memorial commemorates and interprets the important contributions that women made to the war effort. At 441 feet long, the Memorial evokes both the scale of ships built in Richmond and the scope of the shipyard workers' labor. A "Keel Walk" leads visitors to a lookout at the water's edge and includes a timeline of facts related to the Home Front period, along with memories gathered from individual women about their wartime experience. Sculptural elements representing features of a Liberty Ship are positioned along the walk and hold large panels depicting photographs, letters, and other memorabilia reflecting war work performed by women throughout the nation. 

"Shipyard Stories" by artist Ray Beldner, is found at Vincent Park in the Marina Bay neighborhood and, like the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, explores and expands on the theme of life on the Home Front. "Shipyard Stories" is comprised of stainless steel panels attached to a reduced replica of a Liberty Ship Smokestack, and includes historic photos and oral histories relating to such themes as coming to Richmond, the search for housing, work, race relations and the closing of the shipyards, all told from the perspective of the Shipyard workers.

Recent embellishments to Richmond's waterfront include eight Bay Trail Historical Markers tracing World War II history, running along what was once the site of the Kaiser shipyards. The markers introduce information about the area's social and natural history in signs that engage visitors through richly colored graphic panels filled with images of wartime Richmond and the memories of women and men who made the city a critical part of the War. The markers introduce information about the area's social and natural history in signs that engage visitors through richly colored graphic panels filled with images of wartime Richmond and the memories of women and men who made the city a critical part of the War.

Design Team Collaborations
A major goal of the Public Art Program is to incorporate the vision of artists into the design of civic buildings and public spaces from the initial planning stages. As part of a design team, artists collaborate with other design professionals, such as architects, engineers, landscape architects, and City staff to contribute to the overall planning, design, and development of a project. In addition to their creative vision, artists play an important and unique role in soliciting and reflecting community sensibilities, and in translating a community's vision into the planning and design process.

Some Design Team projects include those at Edwards Park and South Side Park, where artists Want Po Shu Wang and Glenn Rogers, respectively, have collaborated with project architects to create art and design elements unique to each park site. A more recent project along Richmond's Bay Trail is called the Bay Trail Historical Markers where a design team of James Harrison, Lewis Watts, and Chiori Santiago collaborated with project manager/historian, Donna Graves to retell the story of Richmond's rich multicultural story.

Art and (Re)Development
In keeping with their commitment to the arts, the Richmond City Council encourages awareness among developers that attractive urban design improves the aesthetic and economic values of the city. City policies require that all new private developments establish a distinctive character, as may be expressed in the exterior design of buildings, with interior or exterior art elements, or by design excellence in the creation of open space areas.

In planning for public art, developers are encouraged to consider a wide variety of artistic applications, such as: 

  • Including an artist on the project design team to contribute to the overall aesthetic of the development.
  • Free standing, suspended or kinetic sculpture; paintings, prints, photographs, or other two-dimensional artworks.
  • Non-traditional forms of art, such as earthworks, landscape elements, or electronic or mechanical art forms.
  • One-of-a kind, artist-designed fixtures, such as furniture, lighting elements, water features, or decorative fences, gates, or railings.
  • Proposals for new private development, including the inclusion of an art component, are reviewed by the City’s Design Review Board for compliance with city policy. Developers are encouraged to contact the Public Art Program to learn more about city policies and procedures, and for assistance in soliciting and involving artists in the design process.

Developers are asked to consider how public art may:

  • Improve, enhance, or ameliorate any negative impacts the development may have on the surrounding community.
  • Approve the appearance of entrances to the City, major thoroughfares and neighborhoods.
  • Achieve an attractive transition between residential, industrial, and commercial areas.

Recent private development projects which have incorporated public art elements include "Signalmen," a sculpture by Anita Margrill located at the corner of Regatta Way and Marina Way, commissioned by the Cattelus Corporation, and a large-scale, ceramic tile mural commissioned by Rubicon Bakery for its exterior facade.

Becoming Involved
The Arts and Culture Commission maintains an artists' roster for those interested in participating in the Public Art Program. New projects are announced on the City’s Website, in local media, such as the West County Times, and arts media, such as Artweek. Artists are encouraged to access these resources and to participate in the Program’s projects, events, and activities.

Where to See Public Art In Richmond
The Richmond Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Arts and Culture Commission, includes a map of Public Art sites in their bi-annual map. Updates to public art work in Richmond will be posted on the Public Art Sites Pages