The term percent for art refers to a program, often a city ordinance, where a fee, usually some percentage of the project cost, is placed on large scale development projects in order to fund and install public art. The details of such programs vary from area to area. Percent for art programs are used to fund public art where private or specialized funding of public art is unavailable. Similar programs, such as “art in public places”, attempt to achieve similar goals by requiring that public art be part of a project, yet they often allow developers to pay in-lieu fees to a public art fund as an alternative.
From 1934 to 1943, the Section of Painting and Sculpture in the United States Department of the Treasury followed a policy requiring one percent of the cost of federal buildings to be applied toward art and decoration. In 1959, Philadelphia adopted the first such municipal ordinance in the United States. Other jurisdictions followed suit, including Baltimore in 1964, San Francisco and Hawaii in 1967, and Seattle in 1973.
More than half of the states now maintain percent-for-art programs. On the federal level, since 1963 the General Services Administration has maintained the Art in Architecture Program, which allocates one-half of one percent of construction cost for art projects.
Problem now is that funding is very limited, and many states and cities neglect the need for maintaining this ordinance! Not much has changed since the 70’s, except the loss of funds.