A story on Public Art in New York City

Percent for Art program was enacted by Mayor Ed Koch in 1982. It commissions works of public art, that should be present at least 30 years, at eligible city-funded construction projects (like libraries, schools, hospitals, and firehouses) across the city with the equivalent to one per cent of the cultural budget for every fiscal year. The current final Fiscal Year 2017 expense budget was $177.6M, according to Ryan Max Director of External Affairs at DCLA.

Etched Granite Pavement by Matt Mullican, 1995. Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens.

When combining information from DCLA website and OpenDataNYC I found out that a total of 339 projects have been commissioned since the start of the program.

The year 1995 with 38 projects, 1996 with 26 projects, and 1997 with 18 are the years with more projects completed.

DCLA only provided some information online (name of the project, name of the artist, location, and council district.) This story is in development as I filed a FOIL request (that will be answered by September 25th 2017) asking for the budget of each an every project. I manually inserted the years of the completion of the project when I could found those.

To know more about the artists and the projects that have been funded you can peruse this website.

Storm & Sanitary Sewer Covers by Elizabeth Turk, 2000. Staten Island.
Source: DCLA and OpenData NYC.

New Yorkers want equitable distribution of arts and culture across boroughs, according to the CREATE NYC Cultural Plan, they also want to protect and support local organizations, artists, and programming that speaks to local histories and identities.

Also, through the first ever cultural plan for the city of New York, an unprecedented effort of public engagement who got the input of 188.000 New Yorkers, we learnt that officials want to provide grant and technical support and increase transparency, while expanding the definition of public art and inclusion in both underutilized public and private sites.

How can artists benefit from all this?

At the beginning of this year City Council passed a package of bills (spearheaded by Council Members Laurie A. Cumbo and Jimmy Van Bramer) that raised the funding caps for the program from $400.000 to $900.000 for small projects and from $1.5 million to $4 million for larger projects. It is important to bear in mind, for the sake of perspective, the budgets managed by non profits that commission public art, like Public Art Fund, which can escalate to $15 million dollars, like Olafur Eliasson's project.

According to CREATE NYC there are currently 90 public art projects underway.

The process to get commissioned involves different groups of government bodies and independent organizations. There are different steps to pass: Permitting processes, artist selection panels, and funding.

Genius by Ralph Helmick, 2002. Kingsborough Community College, Brooklyn.
Source: CREATENYC Plan. The I stands for Implementation of the strategy.

Two more strategies that the city will implement with the plan (that came out at the end of July 2017) are the creation of opportunities for more inclusion in DCLA-funded cultural capital projects for artists, cultural workers, and audiences with disabilities, plus, the support to individual artists who are from and/or work with immigrant communities, cultures, and artists.

The Cultural Plan was an specific legislation than Mayor de Blasio signed in 2015. In his State of the City address that same year he said: “We know that New York is the city it is today in part because of the contributions from generations of artistic visionaries who at one point struggled to make ends meet.” 75% of arts and cultural workers support their art practice with income from sources other than their artistic practice and 40% of arts and culture workers are unable to afford art supplies, according to CREATE NYC plan, that is why the reiteration of increase support for individual artists through its re-grant partners, going forward, is one of the main actions that the city is going to take.

CREATE NYC organized the implementation of the actions in four terms: immediate: within 12 months, short: within 2 years, medium: within 4 years, and long: within 10 years. The city is going to measure the progress of the plan through a citizen's advisory committee and a cultural affairs advisory commission.

The evidence of this progress will be based on the monitorization and report on equity, diversity and inclusion, information, collaboration and coordination, affordability, and growth and sustainability, according to CREATE NYC.

If you are an artist interested in getting involved in the creation of public art, or an arts advocate, you can stay engaged by showing up at the continued Office Hours with the Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, which will start again in Autumn 2017.
The first update on the plan will be published in early 2018.

The bulk of projects of Percent for Art program has been in the past. Let's see how it goes in the future under this exciting new way of doing things: Engaging communities into the conversation. It was about time, because, at the end of the day, the creators and the people who enjoy the public display of art are the ones who count.

Piece Clock by Lina Viste Grønli, 2016, Manhattan.

Above, one of the latest additions to the city funded public art projects. At 4:30 AM or PM one can see the peace sign.