Public Art Conservation: FAQ about Maintenance Plans


Why is public art maintenance important?

Maintenance keeps public art looking its best at all times. Wear from weather and public interaction can lead to worn finishes, flaking paint, chipped surfaces and other problems. When treatments are made regularly, it is much easier to maintain artists' original finishes and reduces the possibility for severe damage.

Public art is a huge draw for tourism which improves local businesses. If you are promoting your art collection to increase visitors to your community or campus, your collection should be in the best condition it can be in order to make the best impression. Public art is typically designed specifically to reflect that community by an artist. Taking measures to maintain the integrity of the artist’s work as well as the message the piece conveys is important to ensure the piece lives throughout future generations. Public art also increases community morale, generally improves curb appeal, and helps make a city or downtown distinct. With public art having such a crucial role in a town, it should be cared for with the utmost importance.

A study by Americans for the Arts reveals that 68% of tourism in the U.S. is driven by arts.

A study by Americans for the Arts reveals that 68% of tourism in the U.S. is driven by arts.

Public Art Maintenance 101: Everything you should know about a maintenance plan

Q: Does art maintenance save money?

A: Public art maintenance plans save your organization money! Going many years between assessments and/or treatments creates opportunity for serious damage to occur, resulting in increased cost for treatment. Think of a car: it is much more affordable to do regular oil changes than to fix an engine. Depending on the material of your art, volunteers or experienced staff can even complete the maintenance treatments.

Want to have your volunteers or staff trained for maintenance? Contact us to schedule a training session!

Q: What is the first step to creating a public art maintenance plan?

A: Our recommendation is to start with a well rounded assessment and evaluation of the collection. This should include documentation of the current condition in written form and visually with photos. Major and minor condition issues should be indicated. The assessment should explain where issues like flaking paint, rust, cracks, mold, etc. occur on the piece.

Each piece should also be documented to state the location of the piece, what materials it is made of, the artist/designer, when it was installed, a short description of the piece, and include a log of previous maintenance treatments.

Recommendations for treatment should be also be included in the assessment with a suggested timeline for that treatment to occur. After your assessment is complete and you've compiled your recommendations it will be easier to evaluate and create a schedule for maintenance based on your findings.

Q: How often should public art maintenance be scheduled?

A: In our experience, we typically see public art maintenance occurring anywhere from every 1-5 years. The public art itself (materials, finishes, etc) as well as your location and what type of conditions those pieces face each year are both factors in determining the frequency of maintenance. The frequency of maintenance can be determined with the assistance of a conservator.

Need a conservator? Download our free guide to learn how to choose a conservator!

Q: How long does it take to perform public art maintenance?

A: Length of time for maintenance depends on how many public art pieces you have and the treatments required. For example, this project for Baltimore consisted of 22 public art pieces and took our team about 3 weeks to complete. In general, maintenance could take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple months for larger collections, for smaller collections treatment time could potentially last just a few days.

Q: Who should complete public art maintenance?

A: Conservators are the preferred method because they have extensive training and experience in working with sculptures, monuments and other public art forms. However, most routine maintenance treatment methods can be taught to a maintenance staff by a trained conservator. For example, we provide hands-on training so your community can continue to take care of your art. Another option is to develop a volunteer maintenance program through the collaboration of a conservator. Using volunteers comes with challenges, but can be a rewarding and successful solution.

Q: What are common public art maintenance treatments?

A: If a sculpture or monument is in good condition, regular maintenance may consist of specialized cleaning techniques with specific solutions (depending on the material of the piece). Buffing and waxing may also be part of the regular treatment plan or applying new lacquer. Regardless of whether or not treatment is actually completed, it is important to thoroughly look over each piece in your collection every 1-5 years to see if there are any changes in the surface or structural integrity that may need addressed by a professional conservator.

Ready to create a maintenance plan? Contact us to schedule a consultation for maintenance!