Public art on private property is a little different than on municipal property because the cultural commission does not have to give much input into the project. For the most part, the artist and the property owner in Portsmouth work out a private agreement with each other, typically making the project come to life much faster.
There are two points that artists and property owners have to keep in mind when discussing project ideas:
Public art on private property cannot be a sign of any kind.
So, you just bought yourself a building in the center of town and plan to open a boutique on the first floor and rent out the upstairs. Your building happens to be on a corner with a blank brick wall facing a major intersection. You think the wall would be a perfect place for a commissioned artist to create a mural that encompasses the themes of your shop with the name of your shop woven into a scarf blowing in the breeze. Surely anyone sitting at the intersection will be interested in seeing what the shop is and want to visit.
Although this seems like a simple commission with no bells and whistles, any public art that is a sign of any kind, or anything that displays a company logo or name, even if it’s on private property, is prohibited. All signage must follow the city’s (Portsmouth’s) ordinance and rules.
Public art on private historical property needs special approval from the city.
This point may go without saying, but if you happen to live in, or own, a historic building here in Portsmouth and have big plans for renovations, gardens, or even a sculpture to be displayed out on the front lawn, your plans must be approved by the city and the Historic District Commission. This process is similar to the art process that is set for public art on municipal property.
You might be thinking, where in Portsmouth will I see public art on private property? In most cases, it’s hard to tell the difference between public art on municipal property versus public art on private property. For example, a lot of people think that the Wayland Whale Wall (you know the one) is municipal property public are, because well, it’s very much in the public eye. However, the Wayland Whale Wall is actually on a privately owned building.
Here in Portsmouth, most of the public art that you will see are murals inside and on the outside of privately owned buildings. To help connect artists and property owners, we established the online tool StreetCanvas, built through the support of A Tiny Bit Huge campaign. Some examples of pieces already created are The Mural on The Wilder and the Mural on the Transformer Fence at PortWalk.
New Mural on Earth Eagle Brewing (above), is an example of public art worked out between the artist and owner.
And, back in 2011, in an effort to elevate the new generation of street artists, the Portsmouth Museum of Art hosted Street a.k.a. Museum, curated by LeBasse Projects’ Beau LeBasse. Some of these pieces you may recognize on the streets of Portsmouth still today. The pieces you see today are the ones that have been taken care of by the property owner. The upkeep of any public art on private property is the responsibility of the owner.
Next time you’re out and about, be sure to check these pieces out! You can also follow the Tiny Bit Huge Instagram account for updates on the newest pieces in town.