Principles and Guidelines

The University of Michigan strives to extend U-M’s educational mission by building and maintaining a stellar collection of public art. Through the Public Arts Program, we aim to give visual and physical form to the University’s core values, such as the pursuit of understanding, knowledge, and creativity; freedom of speech and expression; respect for diverse viewers and users; and the creation of a stimulating yet safe environment. We are particularly committed to public art that reflects the University’s engagement with the world and evolving priorities as a global leader in higher education.

Because the art is sited in public spaces where many users come together for a variety of purposes, we seek to balance issues of originality and intellectual and visual provocation with a respect for the diverse needs and wants of the greater community. We strive to site works of public art in settings appropriate to their scale, purposes, aesthetics, and materials, and to stimulate a dynamic public art presence on both the University campus and in the city of Ann Arbor, paying particular attention to areas where the city and the University come together.

Download the full version of the Public Art Program’s principles and guidelines.


The Public Art Program applies a consistent set of criteria in evaluating works of public art—whether sited permanently or temporarily—that are offered to the University, as well as works that the University or its units proactively seek to add to the public environment. Essential to these criteria are the following:

  • The aesthetic significance of an individual work of public art
  • The significance of the artist or artists
  • The relative uniqueness of the work of art, including factors of originality and authenticity
  • The ethical position occupied by the work of art, including consideration of provenance
  • The contribution an individual work of art can be expected to make to the University’s educational mission, as well as to the existing collection of public art
  • Appropriateness to site, including (for outdoor sites) appropriateness to the site’s adjacent architecture, hardscaping, and landscaping
  • The appropriate use of public resources, including funding, staffing, etc.
  • The University’s ability to assure the proper long-term care of the individual work of public art, including security, conservation, and maintenance
  • The safety of the work of public art, as well as the safety of users interacting with it
  • Where works of art come as donations, the University’s ability to manage effectively the long-term stewardship of donor relationships


For purposes of the work of this committee, “public art” is defined as installations of art—permanent or temporary—in public spaces of the University, including the exteriors of buildings, outdoor public areas, or interior public lobbies. Although we cannot always clearly separate public art from architectural elements or other exterior elements, the following guidelines will help us define the scope of the committee’s activities. In situations of potential overlap, relevant committees and units work cooperatively to resolve questions and develop recommendations.

Public art includes:

  • Art works located outside of buildings on the campus grounds or in public lobbies.
  • Free-standing original pieces of sculpture, made of any material, including those commissioned as part of new building construction.
  • Art works such as decorative tiles or mosaics which are embedded in sidewalks, seatwalls, etc. (e.g., the “Trio” mosaic on the plaza wall west of EECS).
  • Outdoor utilitarian elements—such as memorial and sculptural benches, nonstandard light fixtures, or drinking fountains—that are unique works of art (e.g., the “Science Benches” on Ingalls Mall).
  • Works of art attached to or incorporated into the exterior facades of buildings (e.g., the bas reliefs on various buildings).
  • Free-standing artifacts that have been in the landscape for a long period of time (e.g., the “Professors’ Monument” southeast of the Hatcher Graduate Library).

Public art does not include:

  • Functional exterior building features. It should be noted, however, that in some situations functional exterior elements might also constitute essentially distinct, if not free-standing, works of public art or may also serve as decorative elements, and in these cases, the committee should be consulted.
  • Art works displayed inside buildings, which thereby fall under the purview of the unit responsible for the building. Similarly, art works installed in courtyards that are enclosed within the footprint of a building also fall under the purview of the responsible unit or units. An exception to this policy is public lobby spaces, noted above; in such cases the Advisory Committee should be consulted. Units are welcome and encouraged to seek advice from the Advisory Committee for significant installations of art in their interior public spaces.
  • Landscaped features (e.g., gardens, plantings, terrain)—except where undertaken as a form of land art or public art (e.g., the “Wave Field” sculpture on North Campus).