In 1989, Montréal adopted an action plan on public art. Montréal was one of the first Canadian cities to adhere to a management framework covering all the activities related to public art: acquisition, conservation and promotion. The public art bureau, which brings together experts in art history, conservation and restoration, oversees the implementation of this action plan according to three major guidelines:
- Acquisition of new works of art, with priority given to contemporary visual art practices and Québec artists;
- Preservation of works of art in the spirit of maintaining their integrity and the artist's intent; and
- Enhancement and promotion of the collection.
Although recent decades have witnessed a revival of interest in public art, this form of artistic expression has historical roots. The oldest piece in Montréal's public art collection is the Nelson Column, created in 1809 by the architect Robert Mitchell, located in Place Jacques-Cartier. The most recent work is Table des matières de supports du savoir (Table of contents of supports for knowledge) by Lisette Lemieux and is integrated into the Parc-Extension library. It was inaugurated in February 2004.
Over the last 15 years, the public art action plan has released many new art acquisitions into the public sphere. Nearly thirty works by major Québec and foreign artists have enriched the Montréal landscape, including Les leçons singulières (Special Lessons), by Michel Goulet (1990), in Place Roy; Gratte-ciel, cascades d'eau, rues, ruisseaux... une construction (Skyscraper, Waterfall, Roads, Brooks…a Construction), by Melvin Charney (1992), in Place Émilie-Gamelin; La Réparation (The Reparation), by Francine Larivée (1998), in Marcelin-Wilson Park; Nef pour quatorze reines (Nave for Fourteen Queens), by Rose-Marie Goulet (1999), in the Place du 6 décembre 1989; Monument à la Pointe (Monument to the Point), by Gilles Mihalcean (2001), at the Centre-Atwater traffic circle; After Babel a Civic Square, by Toronto artists John McEwen and Marlene Hilton-Moore (1993), in Place Albert-Duquesne; La Puerta de la Amistad (The Door to Friendship), by Mexican artist Sebastian (1993), and La Ville imaginaire (The Imaginary City), by Portuguese artist Charters de Almeida (1997), both located in Parc Jean-Drapeau, and, lastly, Neuf couleurs au vent (Nine Colours to the Wind), by French artist Daniel Buren (2001), in Place Urbain-Baudreau-Graveline.
In addition to the works acquired since 1989, more than 40 pieces of public art have received conservation or restoration work during this period. Among the most recent interventions is a wide-ranging restoration program staggered over 2002 and 2003 with the aim of restoring 17 works at the Musée plein air de Lachine, including La piémontaise, by Marcel Barbeau, L'arbre des generations (Tree of Generations), by Gilles Boisvert, and Détour: le grand jardin (Detour: The Big Garden), by Michel Goulet.