Public Art Definitions and Scope

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, which include 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 will 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 locations such as sidewalks and seat walls;
  • Outdoor utilitarian elements—such as memorial and sculptural benches, nonstandard light fixtures, or drinking fountains—that are unique works of art;
  • Works of art attached to or incorporated into the exterior facades of buildings; and 
  • Free-standing artifacts that have been in the landscape for a long period of time.

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. In such cases, the PAConPA should be consulted.
  • Art 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 PAConPA 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—except where undertaken as a form of land art or public art.

Public Art Categories:

The PAConPA organizes public art into three temporal categories: long-term (and permanent) installations, short-term installations, and events. The definitions for each category follow.

Long-term Installations

Long-term installations include both temporary and permanent installations of public art lasting 6 months or more. Long-term installations may arise under three circumstances: 

  • An existing work is proposed as a gift or long-term loan to a specific campus unit; 
  • A unit desires to purchase an existing work of public art with donor or institutional funds; or 
  • A unit desires to commission a work of public art with donor or institutional funds. 

If you are interested in submitting a proposal for a long-term installation, please visit the Applications page to learn more.

Short-term Installations

Short-term installations are defined as installations of public art lasting from 6 days to 6 months. Such installations will primarily be works of art created by U-M faculty and students in association with academic programs. If you are interested in submitting a proposal for a short-term installation, please visit the Applications page to learn more.


Events are defined as public art activities or set-ups that last 5 days or fewer. PAConPA will not typically play an authorizing role in events sponsored by academic units or Student Life. Proposals for events must be directed to the Special Events Coordinator in the Office of the Associate Vice President for Facilities and Operations. Proposals must be submitted at least 3 weeks before the planned date of the event. More information can be found through university Facilities and Operations.