We launched the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge in October 2014 to support temporary public art projects with the potential to catalyze urban growth, contribute to local identity, and promote creativity. In addition to generating exciting work in cities, we also hoped the initiative would encourage local governments to view the arts as a resource that can support civic priorities in real and transformative ways.
By the December deadline, 237 mayors had submitted proposals from cities in 45 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, representing 68 million Americans. The projects – just like the cities – varied in size and scale, and many proposals came from communities not widely recognized as creative centers. This robust response indicates a growing recognition among cities that art can positively redefine communities.
The enormous potential benefits of combining art and urbanism are suggested in two major reports released by the National Endowment for the Arts earlier this year. One study found that 73 percent of people who attend arts programs do so explicitly to be with others, underscoring the major potential of cultural activities to bring residents together, sharing a common experience and promoting social cohesion. The second study, conducted in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce, found that the arts contribute $698 billion to the U.S. economy. This represents 4 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product, outpacing many key areas including the construction sector and the transportation and warehousing industries.
All of the proposals we received conveyed a belief in the social and economic benefits of public art. We ultimately selected 12 finalists whose ideas and implementation plans presented compelling art and were poised to make significant local impact. These proposals engaged a range of issues, including the revitalization of decayed downtown areas, underutilized waterfronts, and vacant neighborhoods. Some also addressed social themes such as civil rights, neighborhood safety, and environmental sustainability.
Throughout our conversations with these finalists, we were heartened to see the Challenge process generating new collaborations among government agencies, community partners, and artists. The process of developing ambitious, risk-taking public art projects clearly necessitates unprecedented levels of contact and cooperation, and forging these partnerships is another nuanced but transformative byproduct of undertaking them.
These new pathways of collaboration and creative thinking can have potential life well beyond the duration of this project, contributing towards a deeper, lasting civic impact. And the four winning projects – submitted by Albany, Schenectady and Troy, NY; Gary, IN; Los Angeles, CA; and Spartanburg, SC – have also demonstrated success at attracting private sector and in-kind investments.
As the winning projects take shape over the next two years, we look forward to seeing each city’s project achieve creative and civic goals – and encourage even more interaction and innovation. We also hope the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge contributes to the national dialogue about the arts as a catalyst for positive change, and the potential of artists to serve as problem-solvers and collaborators across a range of urban issues.
Please join us online in watching these projects develop.