Public Art Research Archive, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

A 'PERCENTAGE FOR ART SCHEME' IN THE CITY OF SHEFFIELD Document written by David Alston, Deputy Director of Arts, Sheffield City Council, 20th June, 1986


  • 1.1 Art in Public Places in Sheffield stands in need of reappraisal. The City has a history in this area but it is by no means a prevalent or vital ingredient of the cityscape. The City’s outlook is not circumscribed by formal nineteenth century statuary in civic squares (such as one finds in Liverpool) but equally twentieth century initiatives and contemporary commissioning are just as piecemeal. The idea of a Percentage for Art scheme adopted by a major city like Sheffield would provide the impetus to increase initiatives for public art. A Percentage for Art scheme would provide the framework for incorporating art-commissions into all appropriate new developments, buildings, renovations, environmental improvement schemes and public space developments.
  • 1.2 Adoption of the principle of a Percentage for Art scheme by the City Council would be an appropriate initiative on two major counts:
    • (a) Whatever the current capital spending position of the Authority, its aspirations and potential remain the broadest for the City's environment. It is the custodian of the fine public Spaces of which Sheffield is justly proud and it is the co-ordinator of the lay out and future of the City in respect of the Central District Urban Plan or such major undertakings as the Lower Don Valley schemes.
    • (b) Operation of a Percentage for Art scheme would be an extension into the area of the arts of a local government initiative of national bearing - a "building from the bottom" approach such as Sheffield has sought to pioneer in the field of its practice in relation to the local economy, social services, education, etc.
  • 1.3 A Percentage for Art scheme represents a quite modest reappraisal of the way any appropriate capital project might incorporate an input from the arts to enormous effect. This proposal sets out the reasons and background information to promote the adoption by the City Council of the principle of a Percentage for Art scheme.


  • 2.1 A Percentage for Art scheme would be a policy commitment in respect of appropriate capital schemes. The idea is that in order to foster and promote the collaboration between art and the environment, between art and architecture, between art and the people, the Authority devises a scheme which ensures that whenever a new public building, place or space is built, created or developed a percentage of the overall cost of the scheme is required by this policy commitment to be spent on art for the public benefit.


There are a whole range of interlocking benefits to the community to be considered here under some main headings:
  • 3.1 Improvement of the City Environment
    An art content will humanise, imaginatively stimulate, enhance, invite participation, promote creative involvement with the environment, providing a medium of expression by the community in relation to its own identity.
  • 3.2 The Local Authority Acts as a Visible Patron of the Arts
    This increases the opportunity for the appreciation of public places, enhances civic awareness and community identity. It can act through its patronage as a stimulus to orientating artistic concerns on a broad front. Patronage is a determining factor of artistic production. The Authority can establish an identity in this area to envisage a renewed relationship between art and society.. Currently Central Government is doing little to support such initiatives, setting little store in fostering cultural vitality and neglecting its potential in the public domain.
  • 3.3 Tapping Resources
    Whole areas of creative resources within society are given a context by the scheme. There are increased employment opportunities, new challenges for artists and crafts people, but also for the young and/or unemployed in community schemes. It should be recognised within the City that a great number of artists have a potential contribution to make.
  • 3.4 Improving the Area of Cultural Debate
    The scheme has educational features, it breaks down barriers between contemporary art practice and its perception by the people. Art becomes an area of interaction. It becomes less of a separate area of people's lives, more integral to everyday concerns and environment.


There are precedents for the scheme for in the absence of private patronage, many countries, states and local authorities have assumed a responsibility for promoting and advancing the arts.
  • 4.1 The International Picture
    • Canada
      1964 saw 'The One Percent to the People' schemes introduced. By 1976 200 works had been created for the benefit of 104 communities.
    • Netherlands
      There are two schemes, the 1% and the 1.5%. The 1.5% law requires that percentage of the cost of construction of new public buildings be allocated for the commissioning of works of art.
    • Finland
      An informal 1% rule applies in all towns.
    • West Germany
      A sliding scale (0.5 - 2%) must be allocated from new building costs.
    • USA
      Percentage for art legislation has been enacted in 21 states, 36 cities/counties, and has been introduced for consideration in a number of others. The 'shining example' is perhaps Seattle where a 'percentage for art' programme has operated for twelve years. Over this period an estimated 550 artists have created works for the City.
  • 4. 2 Percentage for Art in the United Kingdom.
    The general proposal for a percentage for art scheme was first officially advocated in this country by the Labour Party's document on the. Arts in 1977. In 1981 the Arts Council established its Art in Public Places Programme. The GLC agreed in January, 1984, in principle for a percentage for art scheme to be introduced in 1985. Its last policy document in relation to the development of the South Bank shows the potential benefits. The County of South Glamorgan and the Borough of Lewisham have also agreed in principle to adopt percentage For art schemes. At present no major Authority of the status of Sheffield has adopted a scheme. Adoption of the scheme would make Sheffield therefore a lead Authority in this field, undoubtedly paving the way for further development. The National Executive of the Labour Party are currently considering bringing a proposal forward for adoption as policy.


  • 5.1 A Percentage for Art scheme does not mean more capital spending provision. It would operate within current or future capital allocations.
  • 5.2 It does mean a corporate position on the reappraisal of the application of capital monies in appropriate schemes (There are numerous examples of the operation of the percentage scheme where the planning of artistic involvement is integrated rather than applied as "icing on the cake" with the result that money is not sought extra to a budget but is part of the initial capital sum)
  • 5.3 Monies identified under this proposal will be regarded as an integral part of the Funding of the project and administered accordingly. This action to be achieved by the allocation of at least 1% of the estimated costs of capital projects to works of art associated with the project
  • 5.4 In certain. circumstances it will be possible for the Authority to attract additional funds for the provision or art works, through the Arts Council, the Regional Arts Association, EEC monies and sponsorship from the private sector.


Sheffield acting as a lead Authority in adopting a Percentage for Art scheme would make a substantial contribution to urban enhancement and regeneration. The Scheme is of benefit socially, culturally, educationally, environmentally and would have national impact.
It is therefore proposed that:
  • 6.1 That this report be submitted to all the relevant Programme Committees and policy groups of the City Council to obtain corporate assent.
  • 6.2 That the City Council thus considers adoption of the principle of a Percentage For Art scheme
  • 6.3 That the Public Arts Programme Working Party, established by the Libraries and Arts- Programme Committee, advise the City Council and its Departments on the implementation and workings of the policy.

David Alston
Deputy Director of Arts
20th June, 1986

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