Come gather round people
Wherever you roam*

From Ancient China, Classical Greece and Rome, the Renaissance through to the Bauhaus, the collaboration between art and architecture has been a vital, significant and evident feature within society. The twentieth-century has seen the decline and almost total collapse of private patronage, which played a major and arguably exclusive role in promoting and supporting all the arts, and particularly that collaboration between the visual and monumental arts. On February 27 and 28 1982, at the ICA, the ‘Art and Architecture’ conference will deal with the issues which arise from the marked absence of such collaboration in this country today. The purpose of this piece is to discuss the ‘Percentage for Art’ initiatives which have taken place in the Western world during this century, in order to provide a solid base of information for the debate about a corresponding initiative in this country.

And admit that the waters
Around you have grown*

In the absence of private patronage, most Western states have assumed a responsibility for fostering, promoting, maintaining and advancing the arts, actively do so, and appropriate funds provided by the tax payer for that purpose. A significant measure which many states have introduced to achieve these aims has been what is now commonly called ‘Percentage for Art’ legislation. The idea is that in order to foster and promote the collaboration between art and architecture, the State devises a scheme which ensures that whenever a new public building, place or space is built or created, a percentage of the overall cost of the scheme is required by law to be spent on art, in order to ensure the collaboration between art and architecture for the benefit of the public.

And admit that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone*

At the IXth International Congress of Art at Stuttgart in 1979, the theme of which was ‘Art and the Public’, one of the commissions reported on ‘Art in Public Spaces’. The Congress declared that art in public spaces was a central development in the visual arts today, and considered that any order the works intended for public spaces implied, from the earliest stages, direct consultation among artists, architects and works-foremen, so that the principles and conditions of execution of the work might be laid down with the collaboration of all these. The Congress received reports of numerous projects as examples of this collaboration. (For a swift scamper through selected examples of contemporary collaboration, see the articles in the last Art Monthly, by Jennifer Oille and Deanna Petherbridge.) Perhaps more important than quality and standard of works themselves are the measures which have been introduced to foster, promote and, in some cases insist upon such collaboration. In order to consider what measures might appropriately be introduced in this country to foster and promote such collaboration, it is important to consider the measures introduced elsewhere in the West this century. Lessons learned elsewhere may show what to reject or valuably emulate.

If your time to you
Is worth saving*

1964 saw ‘The 1%’ or ‘1% to The People’ scheme introduced. By 1976 200 works had been created for the benefit of 104 communities.

The scheme ensured that whenever a new building was required, the budget was prepared, an architect chosen, and a project committee set up to deal with the 1% rule. The committee comprised representatives of the future user, the local community, the art community, and members of the National Advisory Committee; and then they made a recommendation to the relevant Minister. After this selection a contract was drawn up with the artist, who was required to work under the architect’s supervision.

1936 saw the birth of the idea, but it was not until 1951 that the law was invoiced; for years it required the state to spend 1% of its money for ‘school building’ on art. The aim was to provide ‘decoration’ through the incorporation of art into architecture – to enrich students’ surroundings. From these humble but auspicious beginnings, the 1972 law adjusted the requirements to aim at the integration of buildings into their surroundings, which meant that the law allowed 1% to be used to plan spaces by employing artists. Unfortunately, the administration of the scheme was ham-strong by numerous bureaucratic constraints: architect chooses artist and scheme; Prefect of Department or Secretary of State has a veto; then, a National Advisory Board or Regional Arts Officer throws in their two pennyworth. The quality of the resulting work is not the issue so much as the fact that by 1975 £2.4m was being spent on art for such projects. Inevitable draw- backs centred on the over-involvement of the architect; the (original) ‘decorative’ requirement for the ‘art’ money; the large sum of unused ‘art’ money because many art schemes were unacceptable to the bureaucrats; the bias towards nationally funded schemes without correlative financial or legislation support from local or regional authorities; nepotism; unnecessarily complex and inevitably delaying bureaucratic procedures; inadequate provision for the ravages of inflation on original costings, percentages and fees. Quite separately, there have been strong criticisms by artists of the apparently resulting lack of response to this whole initiative by regional and local authorities, as well as by private developers; it’s all very well to legislate for whenever central government is involved with the funding, but most of the environment is built by regional or local authorities, or by private builders.

Post-War reconstruction of Germany spawned the ‘Kunst Am Bau’ scheme in 1949. It is not a law, but a policy of spending a percentage (varying between 0.5-2%) of new building costs on art, which has been and is, usually, put into practice.

Largely due to the discretionary nature of the scheme and its lack of central cohesion, its effect has been extremely varied. Criticisms have centred on the quality and standard of the type of building, unsatisfactory methods of selection of artists, the very late stages at which artists have become involved in projects, and the quality and standard of the art works produced. This has in fact resulted in strong and wide-spread criticism of what has to be described as a major attempt by a Western European country to introduce ‘Percentage for Art’ legislation, but which, in fairness, has never been a well-planned, orchestrated or cohesive national scheme supported by legislation.

An informal 1% rule is operated in large towns.

Apart from the establishment of the now defunct AIR index of artists, recently revamped by the ACGB, both of which were ill-tended to help foster and promote private and public commissions, no moves have yet been made towards ‘Percentage for Art’ legislation or even towards the creation of informal schemes. (Mention, of course, should be made of the Chinese whisper which says that local authorities do have power under the law to levy a ½p. rate to raise money to spend specifically on arts provision in their area. However, no one has been able to discover as yet if this law really exists.)

The 1949 law required all public (state and local) authorities to allocate 2% of their total building costs for decoration. A national competition has to be held and a nine-member panel selects the artist and the scheme; three artists chosen by the Minister of Education are required to sit on the panel.

There are two schemes; the 1.5% and the 1%.

The 1.5% law requires that percentage of the cost of construction of new public buildings to be allocated for the commissioning of works of art to be incorporated into the architectural project. Such work may be traditional (sculptures, tapestries and so on) or be a contribution by the artist to the internal or external environment. The scheme is centrally administered with funds appropriated by the Ministry of Equipment. Many local authorities have emulated the national scheme of their own volition.

The 1% law requires that percentage of the cost of building new schools, financed in whole or in part by the State, to be devoted to the incorporation of works of art.

One of the original innovators of ‘Percentage for Art’ schemes, Norway’s local authorities developed the idea between the wars by incorporating art into public buildings and places.

In 1937 artists succeeded in establishing the 2% rule for decoration purposes. Since 1966 state funds for the percentage scheme have been administered by the Cultural Council, which ensures that 0.2-0.3% of the construction costs of all public buildings (state and local) are spent on works of art. The artist and the scheme are selected by a six-member national panel, comprising two Cultural Council Officers, three Artists’ Union members and one Architect’s Union member.

Recent developments have included state allocation of special funds for experimental commissions carried out in perishable materials, in order to train artists in monumental decoration; and documentation centres have been established to provide information on artists and their works for commissioning authorities.

Sweden’s scheme emerged during the 1930s. No law has been enacted but the Cultural Council has devised its own 1% scheme. They feel that their rule is too rigid because it cannot accommodate special cases where more or less than 1% would be appropriate, and also because it does not allow artists to be brought in at design stage since the total overall cost is not yet known. The state funds provide for half of the 1%, and the other half is required to be found by the builders. Some local authorities have adopted the fixed percentage rule at the level of 0.5%, except in Stockholm where it is 2%. Recent experiments have extended the rule to allow the percentage to be spent on work other than for the mere decoration of public buildings, and have included the creation of town artists employed by local authorities to work in non-traditional fields in order to improve the environment; and documentation centres have been established to provide information for commissioning authorities.

The growth of ‘Percentage for Art’ started in the cities and counties who devised and implemented their own voluntary schemes: then they buttressed the schemes with legislation; and, finally, numerous states have begun to devise voluntary schemes which are now slowly being given legal support. Federally, the General Services Administration (similar to our Government’s Property Services Agency), responsible for government building programmes, ran its own art and architecture schemes between 1962 and 1966 and 1972 to 1978, commissioning a total of 145 works. It is quite clear that the GSA programme gave added impetus to the growth of ‘Percentage for Art’ legislation which started with Washington State in 1959.

Taking each State in turn, the growth has been quite swift. Washington State’s measure in 1959 was in fact a vote of 3% of the construction cost of the State Library; in 1962 numerous public commissions were created to boost the World’s Fair; by 1976 five counties had enacted a 1% law; there is now a State law requiring ½% of all State-financed new building to be allocated for art; and Western Washington State College has its own 1% policy. Oregon enacted percentage legislation in 1976, but limited its use to the State Capitol at Salem. Alaska enacted State legislation in 1976. Illinois has tried and so far failed to pass legislation, but has a State ‘Percentage for Art’ policy for its building programmes. In Florida, Dade County enacted ½% for art in 1974, and now Miami, Miami Beach and Broward County each have local legislation. Hawaii now has a law. Texas has discretionary legislation which permits, but does not require a percentage to be spent on art. Furthermore, about 25 other States have drafted legislation, which they have not yet been able to implement but which is still being pursued.

Then you better start swimming
Or sink like a stone*

Whether collaboration between art and architecture is desirable and, if so, whether its achievement requires the taking of positive steps in this country, is another debate for artists, architects, public purse-holders and the public to pursue; but it would be foolish indeed to debate those issues without the factual knowledge of what has gone before. And it would be misguided to base any view solely on the success or failure of the works produced. What is important for an informed debate is to draw from the experience of the numerous and multifaceted schemes elsewhere and, then, to consider what steps might appropriately be taken in this country.

The Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe analysed the various schemes in 1976 and saw a need for European harmonisation together with enough flexibility to meet each country’s individual needs. The Ministers agreed that total funds allocated to artists under percentage schemes needed to be increased; categories of buildings needed to be extended; artists’ representation on selection panels should be greatly increased, and they should always be in the majority; artists’ design costs should be paid for; artists’ payments should be index-linked to counter the ravages of inflation during the inevitably protracted administration of building projects; artists should be commissioned at the earliest possible stage of the project, preferably to be involved in the planning of the project; and the users of buildings and spaces should be consulted in every case and be given a strong representative voice. The Council also came to a view of the philosophy behind the ‘Percentage for Art’ schemes, commenting, significantly, that since the notions of ‘work of art’ and ‘architecture’ have lost their traditional meaning, the principle of integration or synthesis of the arts – inherited from the 1930s – needs to be thought out afresh: the problem now is the quality of the environment, which pre-supposes a change of scale, and participation by artists in the planning of man’s surroundings, at every level and in every sphere. Strong stuff, but a nonetheless valuable assessment.

Further constructive criticism and comment by others include: attempts to link art with the environment have, in many countries, proved disastrous, (though in France, in particular, the standard and quality of art works has been high); vast lack of interest of architects; paucity of funds; lack of coordination of information and knowledge of opportunities: increasing incidents of vandalism; need for artists’ indexes and registries for commissioning authorities.

Despite these problems – or because of them – there are many strong, informed and articulate proponents of and missionaries for the ‘Percentage for Art’, and the lessons learned by them show that the selling of the idea – and not necessarily the scheme – is the first and paramount consideration. There are three marketing campaigns to be mounted, it is argued, to seek to show artists and the public the benefits of ‘Percentage for Art’ schemes.

The arguments go as follows:

Artists benefit from:

  1. Recognition through public commissions and purchases;
  2. Gainful employment;
  3. Training and experience of monumental or public art works;
  4. New and large-scale creative opportunities, particularly in relation to the provision of new services in urban planning, architecture, construction, landscaping, and interior design;
  5. Relief from unemployment.

The Public benefits from:

  1. Enhancement of their opportunities to appreciate public places;
  2. Demystification of the fine arts by their manifestation in public places;
  3. Acquaintance with the works of artists of their time;
  4. Improvement of the environment, particularly for public employees working in public buildings which may be made more inviting to the public;
  5. Accepting a responsibility for artists and craftsmen;
  6. Providing a medium for expression by the community in relation to its own identity;
  7. Enhancing the community’s reputation and standing as a leader in public arts;
  8. Providing a reason for civic pride;
  9. Raising the morale of the public and of public workers, thereby increasing efficiency;
  10. Making people happy and educating them through their environment;
  11. Enhancing the architectural environment;
  12. Fostering, promoting and their artistic heritage.

For the times they are a-changing*

Finally, should any individual, group or organisation try to achieve the creation of measures intended to foster and promote greater collaboration between art and architecture, they would be well advised, before taking any positive steps, to ask themselves and have answers to the following questions:

  1. What measure or measures do we want? i.e.
    • a voluntary policy agreed to be put into practice by professional artists, architects and public administrator/s
    • a voluntary policy practised by local or regional authorities
    • a voluntary scheme run by Regional Arts Associations
    • a voluntary scheme run by ACGB
    • a voluntary scheme run by a newly devised national body
    • local or regional legislation
    • national legislation – or any combination of these.
  2. Who should propose and draft the measures, and what do they feel about the idea?
  3. Who should lobby and present the measures?
  4. What are the aims of these measures?
  5. How broad should the measures be?
  6. What procedures should be created?
  7. What words and phrases would be accepted as common parlance?
  8. Who should and would finance the measures?
  9. Should the measures be mandatory or discretionary?
  10. Who should administer the scheme, and how should administration be paid for, and by whom?
  11. How should artists be chosen?
  12. Is there a need for a National Registry, Index or Archive?
  13. Is there a need for quality control and how should that be achieved?
  14. Is the aim to achieve decoration or integration, or both?
  15. Will the measures be financially effective for artists?
  16. Should the measures include provision for future maintenance of the artwork or project?
  17. Who should own copyright?
  18. Should there be artists’ re-sale royalty rights?
  19. How can we demonstrate the benefits of these measures to all interested and affected parties?

These questions and others will no doubt be thrashed out at the ICA conference in February, and it is to be hoped that something constructive will emerge.

© Henry Lydiate 1982.
*© M. Whitmark and Sons 1963.



This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.