Chicago: Public Art related Public Policies

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Above Image: from left.. [1] Symbiotic Parralax – by Terrence Karpowicz [1997 / Art-in-Architecture program of the Illinois CDA].. [2] Snake Charmer – by Roger Brown [1990 / Percentage-for-Art program of city of Chicago].. and [3] Batcolumn – by Claes Oldenburg [1977 / Art-in-Architecture program of federal GSA]..

CONTEXT and PURPOSE: This year, in 2014, the City of Chicago is in the process of developing a new comprehensive Public Art Program. It is in accordance to the recommendation of the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan, which provides a framework to guide the city’s future cultural and economic growth. The 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan is a centerpiece strategy to continue to elevate the city of Chicago as a global destination for creativity, innovation and excellence in the arts. One of the major proposals of this 2012 Plan was to evolve a comprehensive Public Art Program for the City of Chicago, through public engagement process. As the city is developing its new Public Art Program it is important to analyze the impact of the existing programs, so as to incorporate the positive results and avoid the setbacks. The overarching objective of this write-up is to examine the effectiveness of the existing public policies on the art and artists of our city, so as to determine the extent to which such policies have achieved the intended benefits. Although many art in public places comes from private funding, but this write-up is only about the significance of “public” policies, and not restricted to policies at the city level, but also include policies at the state and federal level as they comprehensively impact the public art collection of our city, and can provide invaluable lessons in framing any new policy.

The underlying assumption is that Public Art plays a vital role in defining the cultural identity of the city, in promoting tourism, and in fueling growth and economic development of the city. Public Art contributes significantly to the vision of Chicago Culture Plan in elevating the city of Chicago as a global destination for creativity, innovation and excellence in the arts.

BACKGROUND: Bulk of Chicago’s collection of Public Art comes from the city’s Percentage-for-Arts program. But other public programs at the state and federal levels have also have contributed significantly to the city’s rich and diversified collection of Public Art pieces. At the state level, the State of Illinois runs the Art-in-Architecture program through the Capital Development Boards [CDB],  and at the federal level, the General Services Administration [GSA] runs its Art-in-Architecture program. In addition there is National Endowment for Arts [NEA] Art-in-Public-Places program. Interestingly all these public programs – at local, state and federal level – have their origin in the New Deal program during the Great Depression. So a logical starting point would be examining the New Deal programs.


1933 – 1943: The New Deal and funding for Arts: PWAP/FAP/TRAP
1963: GSA established Art in Architecture [AIA] program / Federal level
1967: National Endowment for Art [NEA] established the Art in Public Places [APP] program
1967: State of Illinois adopted Art in Architecture [AIA] program / State level
1978: City of Chicago adopted Percent for Art program / City level



Mural " Epic of a City" by Harry Sternberg  [1937]..  Under New Deal's  Federal Arts Project [FAP]

Mural ” Epoch of a Great City” by Harry Sternberg [1937] at Steve Goodman Post-office.. Under New Deal’s Federal Arts Project [FAP]..


1933 – 1943:  The New Deal and funding for Arts.. In response to the Great Depression [1929-33] a series of programs were enacted by the US government between 1933 and 1936, collectively known as The New Deal. These include laws passed by the Congress and executive orders during the First term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. These programs were known as the Three R’s: Relief, Reform and Recovery.

The Public Works of Art Project  [PWAP] was a program to employ artists, as part of the New Deal during the Great Depression. It was the first such program, running from December 1933 to June 1934. It was headed by Edward Bruce, under the United States Treasury Department and paid for by the Civil Works Administration. The purpose of the PWAP was “to give work to artists by arranging to have competent representatives of the profession embellish public buildings.” Artists were told that the subject matter had to be related to the “American scene”. The PWAP was succeeded by the Federal Art Project [FAP] of the Works Progress Administration [WPA].

To understand the Federal Art Project [FAP] it is imperative to first understand the Works Progress Administration  [WPA]. Of all of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, the WPA was the most famous.  The Works Progress Administration was formed in 1935, and renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration.  It was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people, mostly unskilled men to carry out  public work projects  including the construction of public buildings and roads. Under the WPA, was a much smaller but more famous project, the Federal Project Number One.  The  Federal Project Number One was the collective name for a group of projects including Federal Arts Project [FAP]..  Other projects under the Federal Project Number One were Federal Writers Project  [FWP], History records Survey [HRS], Federal theater Project [FTP], and Federal Music Project [FMP]. The WPA was dissolved on June 30, 1943.

Federal Arts Project [FAP] from August 29, 1935 to June 30, 1943.. FAP was the visual arts arm of the New Deal’s WPA. The FAP’s primary goals were to employ out-of-work artists and to provide art for non-federal government buildings including schools, hospitals, and libraries. The work was divided into art production, art instruction and art research. The FAP provided work to artists in various media – painters, sculptors, muralists and graphic artists. It is reputed to have created more than 200,000 separate art works, mostly posters, murals and paintings. Some artists include Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Grant Wood. Many of these were abstract painters, when non-representational abstract art had not yet gained popularity with the people in the 1930s and 1940s. These early programs set the foundation for the current art policies.

There were two other important New Deal art programs..
The Treasury Relief Art Project [TRAP] and Section of Fine Arts:  Both these programs were administered by the Treasure Department. TRAP employed artists to decorate federal buildings whose construction was managed by the Treasury. The second program, Section of Fine Arts [initially named Section of Painting and Sculpture], stipulated that for each new federal building constructed, one per cent of the total cost would be set aside for its embellishment. All works, most of which were murals, sculptures, and paintings, were created solely to enhance and decorate federal buildings and over eleven hundred post offices murals and sculptures for federal buildings in Washington and around the country were created through TRAP. Artists employed by these projects were not on relief or necessarily in financial need. They were awarded the commission based on the results of a competition. These programs laid the foundation of federal patronage in public arts. As Cher Krause Knight states: Although FAP remains the best known New Deal program, however, it was the Treasury Department program that provides the direct link to the next phase of federally sponsored art patronage in the US, the Art-in-Architecture program of the General Services Administration.

Talking about Chicago, many of the artworks under different New Deal programs can still be found in schools, public libraries and post offices. For example there is mural “Advent of Pioneers – 1851” by Frances Foy [1938] at Chicago Main Post Office [433 W Harrison Street], mural “The Great Indian Council – 1833, Chicago” by Gustaf Dalstrom [1938] at Loop Station Post Office [219 S. Clark Street], mural “Epoch of a Great City” by Harry Sternberg [1937] at Steve Goodman post-office and metal sculpture “The Post” by Hildreth Meier [1937] at Logan Square Branch Station post-office [2339 N. California Avenue] are just a few of the artworks created under various New Deal Programs.

The popular theme in arts produced under The New Deal was American scene, especially idealized portrayal of small-town life or urban life, and the spirit of hard work, community and democracy. The art adhered to conventional style – neither too academic, nor to avant-garde, but middle-of-the-road aesthetics – so as not to offend the uninitiated eyes. Abstract works and nudity were almost absent in such works. Although there were no particular guidelines for artists to work, however, idealized American scenes, emerged as the most frequently occurring subject matter of these New Deal era arts. It is pointed out that art administrators could easily understand such themes, maybe a possible reason for this trend. Thus a school of WPA Arts emerged with primary focus on idealized American scenes. It also established the connection between public buildings and art related to scenes of American life. Such art were available to the general public, forging cultural identity and cohesiveness. One of the most important takeaway was that public policies can have a profound influence on the beautification of public places, and infuse a sense of pride in the community.

New Deal was dissolved in 1943. [Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal Formed: April 8, 1935. Dissolved: June 30, 1943]. Along with this all the New Deal related arts programs were also dissolved. Perhaps, the most significant art-related public policy after the FPA has been the Percent for Art program which started in Philadelphia in 1959. Other programs like federal agency’s General Services Administration Art-in-Architecture program started later in 1963. The National Endowment for Art’s program Art-in-Public-Places [APP] also started in 1963.


Space Jungle [1996] – by Dzine at Humboldt Park library..under Chicago's percentage-for-Art program.

Space Jungle [1996] – by Dzine at Humboldt Park library..under Chicago’s Percent-for-Art program.


1959: Percentage for Art Program starts in Philadelphia. Chicago adopted Percent for Art program in 1978.

The Percent for Art Program has a very interesting beginning. It started in Philadelphia, in 1959, with the efforts of noted criminal lawyer Michael von Moschzisker, who was also chairman of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. He believed that Public Art plays a very important role in improving productivity.

“The psychologists and efficiency experts now find that beauty increases productivity. It necessarily follows that true functionalism in man-made edifices must include artistic expression. Sterility and her handmaiden, monotony, must be banished.” – Michael von Moschzisker.

His proudest civic achievement was the creation of the program that set aside for sculpture or other fine arts 1 percent of public money spent on building projects. This became known as Percent for Art Program. Philadelphia passes this ordinance in 1959. Soon other cities followed. Baltimore adopted it 1964, San Francisco in 1967 and Seattle in 1973. Chicago adopted Percent for Art program in 1978.

In 1978, the City Council of Chicago passed the Percent-for-Art Ordinance. It mandates that 1% [Since 1987, it is 1.33 %] of the construction or major renovation budget of a city-owned or city-financed building or structure or certain outdoor improvements is to used to acquire or install permanent artwork at that site. At least half of the works must be created by Chicago-area artists. Nine years later, in 1987,  49th Ward alderman David Orr introduced amendments to the ordinance. The percentage to be set-aside was raised from 1 percent to 1.33 percent of construction costs, or renovation projects “affecting 50 percent or more of the square footage of a public building.” Also, advisory panels needed to be created to include community residents for projects in excess of $5,000.

The City of Chicago has over 500 works of art created by more then 300 artists. These are spread over 140 public spaces and municipal facilities across Chicago including libraries, police stations, fire stations, office buildings, health plazas and other public buildings.  A good glimpse of the diversified collection of such public art works were at display in the recent exhibition at Chicago Cultural Center, “35 Years of Public Art” [in Chicago]. It was curated by Nathan Mason, Curator of Exhibits and Public Art at Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events [DCASE], City of Chicago. click here.. and here..


Batcolumn - by Claes Oldenburg [1977] .. commissioned by  Art-in-Architecture Program of U.S. General Services Administration,

Batcolumn – by Claes Oldenburg [1977] .. commissioned by Art-in-Architecture Program of U.S. General Services Administration


1963: GSA established Art in Architecture [AIA] program.. Eaxctly twenty years after the dissolution of federally funded arts programs under the New Deal, emerged the current federal Art-in-Architecture program. In 1963, during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, the federal agency’s General Services Administration or GSA [overseer of federal construction projects], established the Art-in-Architecture Program. In the GSA Art-in-Architecture program, 1/2 of 1% of a federal building’s costs are to be allocated for public art. The GSA is based in Washington DC and oversees public art projects in all 50 states. The General Services Administration (GSA) is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1949 to help manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies.

Examples of Public Art under Art-in-Architecture Program of the US General Services Administration [GSA]:
The Flamingo – by Alexander Calder [1974].. click here..
Art “Chicago Murals” – by Ilya Bootowsky [1976]..
Batcolum – by Claes Oldenburg [1977].. click here..
The Town-Ho’s Story by Frank Stella [1993].. click here..
Mural painting “Night before Last/ Chicago – by Arturo Hrrera [2006]..

Many of the artworks commissioned under Art-in-Architecture program have been abstract. This is in sharp contrast to the earlier federal government funded arts programs under the New Deal. Abstract art which in the 1930s and 1940s were found only in niche art galleries were not out in the open in public spaces. People found greater acceptance for non-commemorative abstract art forms. However, one major criticism has been that these sculptures are “plop art” and do not integrate the environment in which they are exhibited. One example is the sculpture Town-Ho’s Story by Frank Stella in the Metcalfe Federal Building at 77 W. Jackson click here.. which has faced severe criticism by residents. On the other hand The Flamingo – by Alexander Calder has been very popular.


Symbiotic Parralax - by Terrence Karpowicz [1997] .. Commissioned by the Art-in-Architecture Program of the Illinois Capital Development Board..

Symbiotic Parralax – by Terrence Karpowicz [1997].. Commissioned by the Art-in-Architecture Program of the Illinois Capital Development Board..


1967: States Adopt Art-in-Architecture Programs. State of Illinois adopted Art-in-Architecture Program in 1977, administered by the Illinois Capital Development Board [CDB].. The above mentioned GSA Art in-Architecture Program soon became a model for many states.  Hawaii became the first state to adopt this policy in 1967.  It was followed by other states like Maine in 1973, Alaska in 1975, Washington in 1974 and Colorado 1977. The State of Illinois adopted Art-in-Architecture Program in 1977, which is administered by the Illinois Capital Development Board [CDB].

Examples of Public Art under Art-in-Architecture Program of the Illinois Capital Development Board:
Freeform – by Richard Hunt [1993].. click here...
Monument With Standing Beast – by Jean Dubuffet [1984].. click here...
Symbiotic Parralax – by Terrence Karpowicz [1997].. click here..

Another important Public program began in 1967.. the Art-in-Public-Places program under National Endowment for Art.


Lines in Four Directions - by Sol LeWitt  [1985]  under Art in Public Places of NEA

Lines in Four Directions – by Sol LeWitt [ 1985] .. under Art in Public Places of National Endowment for Art.


1967: [NEA] initiated an Art-in-Public-Places [APP or AIPP] program.. In 1967, the National Endowment for Art [NEA] established the Art in Public Places [APP] program. Unlike the GSA’s AIA, the Endowment didn’t use the APP program to commission art. It merely offered grants to artists and arts organizations to create works of their own design, without giving specific guidelines for the art’s creation as a commissioning agency would have. Many of the APP’s early public artworks were abstract sculpture. The program’s first project was Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse, installed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1969.

NEA was established on September 29, 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act into law. The act called for the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as separate, independent agencies. NEA offers support and funding for projects exhibiting artistic excellence. The NEA has its offices in the Old Post Office building, in Washington, D.C. It defines the arts to include music, dance, drama, folk art, graphic art, creative writing, architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, crafts, industrial design, costume and fashion design, motion pictures, television, radio, and sound recordings. The NEA is the country’s largest single source of funding for nonprofit arts. The APP was created in 1967, two years after the birth of the NEA itself

Examples of Public Art under Art-in-Public Places Program of the National Endowment for Art: Lines in Four Directions – by Sol LeWitt [1985].. click here..

This write up basically lays out the different art related public policies that have evolved over the years and the conditions under which they were formed and the various outcomes. One thing is established beyond doubt is that public programs and policies very significantly impacts art at public spaces. They become symbols of the community and infuse pride in residents. Some public art may become controversial and lead to protests. But as long as public are engaged, it is a positive sign.. I wanted to write much more on the some of the outcomes of programs like “Cows on Parade” and “Haymarket Memorial”.. but this write up has become very long.. So to be continued in part II..




  REFERENCES: Sitings of Public Art.. click here.. Congress of Library.. click here..

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