Philadelphia Public Art: The Full Spectrum

Gary Steuer, Chief Cultural Officer
Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy
Phone 215.686.3989

Philadelphia, PA – The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy announces the completion of a year-long study entitled Philadelphia Public Art: The Full Spectrum performed by PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania, and funded by the William Penn Foundation.  The study was undertaken to assess how public art is currently commissioned, managed, and conserved by the City and other local public art organizations and to make policy recommendations on how to best utilize this tremendous resource relative to the city-wide goals of neighborhood revitalization, economic development, and the creative economy.

 “This study will be an essential tool as we develop a strategy for how to take what is arguably already the most extraordinary public art city in the country, and take it to another level,” said Gary Steuer, Chief Cultural Officer for the City of Philadelphia and Director of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. “It identifies both our extraordinary assets as well as the opportunities to do even better.”

The study was initiated by the Philadelphia Public Art Forum, a coalition of public art administrators convened by the Fairmount Park Art Association, with the goal of providing information about the breadth of public art programs in Philadelphia and developing strategies to enhance their effectiveness.  Other cities’ public art programs were investigated for comparison and for consideration of “best practices” in the field.  The commencement of the study coincided with the opening by Mayor Nutter of the City’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy in 2008, and its completion in 2009 is simultaneous to the 50th anniversary of Philadelphia’s “Percent for Art” programs (1959 to 2009), which were the first in the nation. 

Harris Steinberg, Executive Director of Penn Praxis said: “Public art has been an integral part of Philadelphia’s urban fabric and character for centuries. We have an historic opportunity, with Gary’s leadership in the new Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, to improve upon and explore new forms of expression tied to our identity as a world-class city.”

Philadelphia Public Art: The Full Spectrum details the unprecedented diversity and multiplicity of public art entities that have arisen in Philadelphia over time, which have led to the world-renowned collection of public art for which Philadelphia is known.  The recommendations in the study will be useful for the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy as the City looks to enhance the “full spectrum” of public art assets in the City – from the City’s own Percent for Art program to the similar program at RDA, to Fairmount Park Art Association, the Mural Arts Program (now celebrating its 25th anniversary), the Airport art program, SEPTA’s program and a vast array of other entities. 

The principal recommendations include creating a comprehensive public art vision, organizing and strengthening the Office, strengthening the existing programs, better communicating the story, integrating public art better into planning, and creating new funding opportunities. Some of the gaps or opportunities identified include needing to find a mechanism to maintain this very large collection, much of which is in need of maintenance and conservation, and the need to implement more large-scale temporary public art installations.

The Office has already made progress with many of the study’s recommendations including:

  • Orchestrating the Corian Bench Innovation Project, a Design Philadelphia exhibit of temporary public benches in locations throughout the city.
  • Working with city economic development agencies to integrate public art in major civic development projects such as the design of Pier 11, Dilworth Plaza and the Delaware River Master Plan.
  • Collaborating with the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Locks Gallery for a temporary installation of Jun Kaneko’s “heads” in the City Hall Courtyard (photo above).

The Office is laying the groundwork for a temporary art program planned for fiscal year 2010 and a public art committee of the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Committee is reviewing the study and will advise the Office in developing the broader public art vision.  A celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Public Art is scheduled for October 29th at the Art Institute of Philadelphia.

The City of Philadelphia’s Public Art Program of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy consists of the Percent for Art, Conservation and Collection Management Programs, supporting the commissioning of new works of public art and overseeing the preservation of the City’s public art collection — considered one of the most impressive in the country.  In 1959, Philadelphia became the first city in the U.S. to enact a Percent for Art ordinance to beautify and adorn architecture and public spaces.  In recent years, dozens of public artworks have received conservation treatment to repair the effects of acid rain, vandalism, and nature, and to ensure their preservation for future generations. 

The report can be accessed online at The printed copies of the report will be available from the Office by end of October.

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