Art, by nature, is appreciated in a personal way and may not appeal to everyone equally. In the interest of self-sustaining landscapes, it is better to enhance the rights of way with natural vegetation rather than using murals or art. Murals and works of art require special maintenance skills and must be considered temporary when they are located within public rights of way. Murals should not be copyrighted, and very possibly could be removed for road construction or upgrade needs later. The wide range of opinions on art and the potential for creating a very large canvas of unwelcome painted space makes a public mural prone to controversy.
There are times when murals provide an exciting update to the aesthetic character of an urban site, particularly in places with tired, stained concrete. Trompe l’oeil can be very popular if it is clever and non-controversial. Colorful and bold mural designs that embrace the local community work well.
Expect to submit your proposal to an agency review panel. They will look at your conceptual drawings or final artistic designs to ensure the subjective art pieces serve all the public. Here are some typical requirements for artwork and artistic features proposed on public rights of way.
• Keep fixed object features beyond the clear zone. A sculpture you design could be worthy of the Louvre, but if it is in the clear zone, it will be hit by vehicles admiring your creativity.
• Keep clear sight lines unobstructed. People need to anticipate oncoming and intersecting traffic.
• Securely affix and permanently attach your feature to a substantial, existing structure. Show details of how this will be done. There have been notable historic events where aesthetic features have fallen from bridges. Overdesign your attachments, just to be sure they are secure.
• Avoid moveable parts. You want drivers to have their vision attuned to the vehicles around them. No annoying sight gimmicks.
• Avoid materials that can come loose and fall into the right-of-way or road. Include details of how your surface treatment will be permanently affixed and how any structural component can be removed. How will the road edifice restored to its original surface.
• Avoid distracting elements. When a driver is in 8 lanes of traffic, and half of them are merging, they don’t need to be trying to examine an object in your mural with reflective sparkles or moving parts.
• Your feature should maintain a unified aesthetic nature with the roadside landscape character and unmanaged woods along the roadway.
• Don’t add any embellishment that might be perceived as advertising. This includes logos for local attractions.
• Avoid school team mascots or logos. Students might see this as an invitation for vandalism.
• Avoid words or written messages, except for the discretely placed signature of the mural artist and date.
• An important date like the year of the founding of the community is okay. So is a monogram that acts more as a decorative feature rather than text.
• Keep away from offensive messages or images. Try to imagine if what you are portraying can be misinterpreted in any way. This can be a little like trying to name a baby. Will people make fun of your icon? Will vandals be encouraged to deface your message?
• Your feature should not include any content that could potentially cause community conflict. What you avoid in polite dinner conversation should also be avoided on public structures.
• Your feature should not contain sponsor recognition. This is another tempting item. Selfless generosity is a good thing. There are many alternate ways you can recognize sponsorship. Thank them on the radio. Thank them at a banquet. Thank them with a card. But don’t thank them with an illegal sign.
• The mural or embellishment shouldn’t be painted on any natural feature. Respect nature, trees, and rocks. Should Mt. Rushmore have been left in its natural state? I will let you debate this with your friends, but pubic roadsides should be free of painted rocks.
• Your feature should not emit sound. This is an exciting idea for public parks and landscapes, but drivers need to focus on driving.
• Illumination, both externally and internally, is different than spot or flood lighting. Internal illumination can date a feature quickly. Lighting gimmicks change as quickly as electronic gadgets. Your design feature needs to be something with long-lasting appeal.
• Your feature should not include images of living people, just in case those living people decide to do something embarrassing later in life.
• Murals should be smaller than a billboard. Keep artistic features small enough they can be seen at a glance, unless they are a part of linear art meant to be experienced for longer stretches of driving. You don’t want to force drivers to work to complete their visual take on your art feature. Their focus should always be on driving.
• Too much of a good thing can be unattractive and distracting. Keep your mural no closer than 1000 feet from any other mural visible from the rights of way.
• Your local government entity should be prepared to document evidence that local community input was involved in choosing the content and design of your artistic feature, including but not limited to minutes from any public meeting. Murals are for the people, and not the ego of the artist.
• Roadside features need to be self-sustaining. Espaliered plant material and intricate designs made with plants are not practical for roadside plantings. It is a wild and natural environment that will be neglected during recessions and tight public budgets. Keep things simple and easy.
• Your feature should be made of long-lasting materials and be easy to maintain.