Another picture of thow it will look like, once finished.

The Work Process for Art in Urban Development Projects

When urban and rural areas change, artists are well placed to contribute significant expertise. In collaboration with architects, planners, civil society, municipalities and citizens, artists can develop new methods for cooperation, bring to the fore perspectives that risk disappearing and create innovative holistic designs.


In their work, artists are able to highlight important questions in different ways – and on different occasions – than what is admissible in normal planning procedures. Artists can contribute to designing and thinking artistically during the planning of everything from a major infrastructure project to a small playground. Artistic methods can also take into consideration existing social values, give prominence to local perspectives and integrate local knowledge when sites are to change. This applies both to densely populated growth areas and depopulated rural areas. That art should be a part of the planning and designing of our shared space is today a matter of course and an objective of the Policy for Designed Living Environment, which was adopted unanimously by the Swedish Parliament.

A Diversity of Artistic Expressions and Methods

Working with art in urban development does not imply working with any specific type of art. On the contrary, in urban development it is often possible to create time and space for working both in-depth and extensively with a diversity of methods, artistic expressions and formats.

Art in urban development can open up for large-scale artistic interventions as well as focusing on social issues. There are a number of contemporary artistic practices that are particularly interested in social contexts and participation-based processes, with the aim of exploring specific situations and commenting on society. It is generally easy to imagine these artistic practices in an urban development process and there are also others, which, if one is not well-versed in art, it may be harder to understand in such a context. In collaboration with an art expert, these artistic expressions and practices can be provided with space and‌ ‌make contributions.‌

What the Artist Perspectives Can Contribute

In urban development projects, art and artists enter into a situation that differs from customary commissions of, for example, developing a temporary work or proposing an artistic intervention for a specific place in a specific building. In urban development projects, artistic perspectives can contribute qualities to several stages of a process. Some examples: In the programming phase, artistic practices and processes can help in mapping and exploring various needs. They can also visualise the possibilities of a specific situation. The conclusions of such a work can be brought into the discussions during the detailed planning work. For the detailed plan, they can contribute both to the design of the physical environment and to better take care of a site’s existing social values. Artists can also identify existing artistic values and investigate the possibilities for artistic interventions in the planned area.

Succeeding With Art in Urban Development

  • Appoint a curator/art project manager early in the process
  • Appoint an project group with a mandate to anchor the art project
  • Provide space for art experts in the project management
  • Create a letter of intent for the project’s participating parties
  • Allow the art experts to decide if an art programme is required
  • Allow the art experts to decide when in the process artist should be engaged
  • Think through how to communicate the art project: internally, externally and strategically
  • Be prepared for the unexpected
  • Allow the art process to map out the route

The Situation Enables Cross-Connections

Planning processes offer numerous possibilities for collaborations between artists and other experts, including members who are usually part of a planning process (planners, architects, cultural heritage experts, etc). In addition, there can be collaboration with other experts, who are perhaps not usually engaged in urban development processes but who can be equally important, both for an in-depth planning process and for artistic development work. For example, local residents, civil society, directors, archaeologists, sociologists, ethnologists and researchers.

Urban development projects offer possibilities for cross-connections. There are a number of examples of projects that began as a temporary project in one place and were later made permanent somewhere else. Many collaborations between artists and planners have resulted in the preservation of the cultural heritage and to a new artistic intervention. A number of artistic initiatives from civil society, in collaboration with artists, have changed the course of planned projects and introduced new proposals that have highlighted existing values.

Time Creates Space for Further and Parallel Work Processes

The most salient difference between a work process for art in urban development projects and a work process for permanent and temporary art is the time aspect. Urban development processes often extend over long periods of time, sometimes decades, which affect the working process with art. The art process should be able to take hold of, collaborate with and contribute to creating space for artistic work in a law-governed planning and building process. That is why a number of different processes will occur at the same time and will need to be coordinated. This is particularly the case for artistic processes, as artistic work may be required in different stages of the planning and building process. There may also be ongoing artistic work that was initiated in an early phase. Identifying possible connections between the planning work and the artistic process is a challenge that, if it is organised in a thought-out way, has great potential to make an impression and a difference.

Appoint a Curator/Art Project Manager When the Project Begins

The work with art in urban development projects can be initiated at a very early stage. So early that it may precede the work of developing an art programme. If the work with art in planning and urban development projects is to lead to a meaningful result, it is important to appoint a curator or project manager with artistic expertise as early as possible. This expertise should be part of the ordinary project management team, which, in the early stages, also assumes the role of the advisory group of the artistic work.

When a curator/art project manager or artists are engaged early in the process, for example during the work with the overview planning, they may introduce artistic perspectives into the discussions, which will contribute to creating a holistic approach to the planning. If a curator is engaged early in the process, it will create more realistic conditions for organising, structuring and coordinating the work with the art during the years between the planning work’s initial ideas and the completion of the project. This will also give the curator/art project manager a better chance of evaluating when and how various forms of artistic collaborations can be initiated, if and when an art programme should be developed and how the result of the artistic processes can be carried forward, both in the concrete planning and building work and for the temporary or permanent artistic design projects.

Art in the Early Stages: The Municipal Methods

“It would be positive if artists were involved earlier in the building process; already in the planning stages of new buildings, redevelopment and extensions. This would provide opportunities to introduce an artistic perspective in the planning stage.”

An anonymous informant from Norrbotten County is quoted in the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s report “1% för konstnärlig gestaltning av offentlig miljö” (2020) [1% for Artistic Design of the Public Realm]. According to the report, 53 percent of Sweden’s municipalities engage artists in early stages of the planning and building processes. However, seven percent only do so sometimes, and 36 percent of the municipalities are completely unfamiliar with involving artists in the early stages of the process.