Salt Lake City is progressive in its arts programming and support within municipal government thanks in part to a legacy of great leadership and four big initiatives: 1) Percent for Art program, 2) Salt Lake City Arts Council, the 3) Mayor’s Arts Culture and Events Fund, and 4) THE BLOCKS SLC, a brand identity of Salt Lake’s Cultural Core.

The Percent for Art program started in 1984 to commission more public art in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City’s growing public art collection includes over 130 permanent artworks in all seven City Council Districts that make up the City. Percent for Art requires any new development project in the City receiving public assistance to invest a percent of the assessed value of the project into public art.

Pages of Salt at the Walker Center Garage on Regent Street 

And now, the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City (RDA) has successfully increased the percentage from 1% to 1.5%. The RDA Board of Directors approved the increase in December after reviewing the need to better support artists and promote more quality public spaces. 

How does a Percent for Art program work?

Whenever Salt Lake City undertakes a capital building or improvement project, a percent of that project’s budget is reserved to create public art as part of the completed project.  For example, if a developer asks for city assistance via tax increment financing (TIF) and the end project’s assessment is $10 million, one percent of that total, or $150,000, would go toward public art.

“Public art helps spark additional community investment,” says RDA Project Manager Tracy Tran. “It’s also one of the primary elements that draws people into a neighborhood. We want to foster that curiosity and encourage more of it.”

Types of art may be temporary or permanent and may include sculpture, murals, memorials, integrated architectural or landscape architectural art, digital new media, among other mediums. From an economic development standpoint, public art has proven to benefit retail spaces: art pieces increase foot traffic and drive retail sales. High-quality art can also be a sales catalyst for the high-end residential market. Investing in art also may have a political dimension for developers; The addition of art that reflects the values and history of a neighborhood can establish goodwill and set the tone for a developer’s long-term relationship with a community.

None of it is levy funded, meaning taxpayer dollars are not being used for this. It becomes the responsibility of the developer.

Perhaps most importantly, the increase in percent for art funding provides more funds to artists to create. The benefits of public art are countless, not only is it free and accessible to the community, public art reveals and reflects the uniqueness and stories of our communities. With Utah being one of the fastest growing states, and many new developments coming in quickly, public art has the ability to humanize the built environment, and value the viewer in having a memorable experience with the city.

Imagine at south side of the Eccles Theater

What you may think of the public art in the traditional sense is not necessarily a requirement with this program. One option is allocating space for the creation of art. Artists are often the first residents to be displaced by rapid development. One of the most important reasons artists leave is the lack of spaces where they can practice their craft. As areas are redeveloped, real estate once used for creating art is transformed to accommodate the highest and best commercial use of that property. The living art—often a reason the neighborhood became trendy in the first place—quickly moves to other areas. Having an option to allocate affordable space for artists studios demonstrates the community’s investment in valuing artists for their contribution and their work being integral to our community fabric.

An example of allocating space for the creation of art. Signal-Return, founded in 2011, is a nonprofit traditional letterpress print studio and community arts center located in Detroit, Michigan. Learn more, photo cred at

Art is further incentivized through the RDA loan program that would allow for an interest rate reduction if 1.5% of the agency contribution goes towards art. It also allows the RDA Board to allocate Program Income Funds (PIF) to fund an art project.

“We’re so pleased with the Board’s approval of this updated RDA policy, as it now aligns with the City’s intended increase for capital improvement percent-for-art appropriations,” said RDA Communications & Outreach Manager Amanda Greenland. “It also allows for us to utilize additional RDA tools to support art within our project areas.”