Open Public Art Works


What is an Open Public Art Work?

Open Public Art works are public works that invite others to engage with and create from the original artworks.

Not all public art is an Open Public Art work. In fact, most public art cannot be freely used by others to create any new works—in that sense, even public art is “closed” art. By default, copyright law generally prohibits others from reproducing, distributing, displaying, and modifying an artwork without the authorization of the copyright owner. Cloud Gate in Chicago, IL, for example, is physically accessible to the public but subject to restrictions that prohibit others from freely creating other pieces based on that work. Something as simple as selling prints of your own photographs of Cloud Gate online is prohibited.

However, artists can opt to share their  work freely with others by offering others a physical work of public art, as well as the opportunity to recreate the work itself. Building on the philosophies of the open source movement, New American Public Art wants to encourage itself and other artists to create art that is both public and non-proprietary: Open Public Art works.

Open Public Art works are truly “open.” These works share more than a physical, public presence by making available the design schematics, manufacture, software code, collaborators, even budget for the art available freely and openly to the public. Open Public Art works empower the public to not only access the physical work but to recreate the work itself, if they choose. Through Open Public Art works, New American Public Art aspires to combine the thoroughness of movie credit attribution, the specificity of scientific citation standards, the accessibility of Creative Commons and open source, and the documentation of open hardware public records to create the structure by which public art can be shared publicly and openly.

Why Works of Open Public Art?

New American Public Art believes that public art should be truly open from conception to completion. Public art should not only function as an aesthetic or cultural landmark, but as a monument of public knowledge and a resource for the creative economy.

Open Public Art works empower designers, creators, and the public at large to interact with the works in their communities in meaningful ways. Open Public Art works strive to be usable by the public by giving everyone rights to not only view those works in a public space, but also to engage with these works dynamically by recreating, adapting, and sharing them--and being inspired by what happens next.

In our ideal world, all public artwork would be Open Public Art works.

Where to Situate Open Public Art Works

The Open Public Art mark designates art that achieves maximum physical and legal openness (while still reserving certain copyrights). Open Public Art works are displayed in a public space and subject to an open copyright license that allows others to freely reproduce the work for any purpose, as long as those creators release their work using the same license and include attribution to the original creators.

We’ve created a matrix to contextualize what we envision Open Public Art works to be in relation to other forms of art. Below, we plot various works of art according to two dimensions: their physical accessibility and their legal openness.

Legal / Access Matrix

Legal Openness: Art lives on a legal spectrum from full copyright to the public domain. Rights granted by copyright include the rights of reproduction, distribution, display, and performance. Copyright holders can also choose to license certain protected rights, or waive them entirely. Conversely, works in the public domain can be freely used by anyone, for any purpose, without permissions. The owners of the space in which a work is displayed may choose to regulate certain reproductions or displays of the work, however.

Physical Accessibility: Art can be displayed on a spectrum of accessibility, from completely private (hanging in the living room of a New York City apartment), to controlled public access (displayed in a museum or gallery), to completely public (installed in a public space with free access).

The concepts and iconography of Open Public Art works are a collaboration between
NYU Law's Technology Law and Policy Clinic
Yilu Zhang '17, Kristen M Iglesias '18
New American Public Art