Permit by numbers: City offers public art contracting classes

“Putting artists to work” may sound like a WPA-era poster slogan. But it’s also the fundamental basis of a new series of public art contracting courses hosted by RiverLink and organized by Brenda Mills, the city of Asheville’s economic development specialist.

The classes offer an introduction and general overview of being a contractor with the city — an arts contractor, in this case. “The class provides opportunities to understand how the city does its ‘calls for artists’ and allows artists to ask questions and gather more resources on how to market themselves and receive information on future calls,” Mills says.

Each session details the step-by-step process in the life of a work of public art. “The idea is to begin to meet with local artists and assist them in understanding the public contracting process,” she says. Each course is free and roughly two hours long.

Mills covers, among other topics, just how to make individual or group bids for a project, the initial call for artists, the application process and the required artist/vendor registration. She also outlines project specifics, basic insurance policies, material requirements, budgeting and permits.

Put together, these considerations lay the foundation city-financed public art.

“All artists are not ‘public’ artists,” she says, noting that the differences between a work commissioned for a private collector or organization is vastly different than one commissioned for a city, and thus for taxpayers. When making a bid for a public work, an artist’s submission must reach out to all audiences, or what Mills calls “universal appeal.”

The classes are dedicated to connecting and equipping artists with the resources to become better candidates for future public art projects — to build a stronger base of public artists and thus, a richer public-arts landscape.

“When you’re new to a community, or sometimes even when you’re established, you don’t always know who to call or who to talk to, or how,” says Karen Cragnolin, RiverLink’s founder and executive director. “Brenda’s that person. She’s that advocate at the city, and the city is an advocate for the arts.”

The courses are part of the city’s effort to streamline and enhance its public-art policies following the move of its art acquisitions from an arts-focused commission to an office dealing with community and economic development. Part of that shift involves maintaining the city’s art collection, which includes such works as the Urban Trail, the “Energy Loop,” “Deco Gecko,” and most recently the “Daydreamer piece at 51 Biltmore Ave.. And it includes managing public works affiliated with Capital Improvements Projects. Each CIP apportions 1 percent of its budget toward a piece of public art. As more of CIPs get underway — from parking garages to RAD infrastructure construction projects — more opportunities for public art will arise, Mills says.

So far, each class has been identical and covered only the basics. But Mills sees the program as flexible and capable of site-specific evolution, and they’ll ultimately conform to the needs of specific projects and neighborhoods, she says.

“The River Arts District is set for redevelopment, and these types of outreach and information sessions will be vital to identifying local artists for public art projects,” she says.

The classes are free and open to the public. Attendees are required to sign up in advance. Artists can register by calling or emailing RiverLink or contacting the city’s Economic Development office. The next sessions will be held Wednesday, Dec. 10, and Thursday, Jan. 29, at RiverLink’s office in the River Arts District.

For more information or to register for the next class, contact Brenda Mills at or RiverLink at 252-8474, ext. 10, or visit


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About Kyle Sherard
Book lover, arts reporter, passerby…..

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