I had a tourist ask me the other day, after I told her the story of the Picasso (one of my favorite Chicago stories) how we pick our public art. Honestly, I was kind of standing there wondering the same question. Who does pick our public art? How do they decide?
Daley started the thought when he wanted the Picasso for the plaza of Daley Center. But it wasn’t until 1978 that Chicago started the Percent for Art Ordinance that stated 1.33% of a new or renovated municipal building must devote space to public (at first I typed “pubic” hee) art. Also, it was written in the ordinance that 1/2 of the commissions must go to Chicago artists. Chicago was one of the first and certainly the largest, of cities to create such a thing.
Some of the Public Art pieces include the cow in front of the Cultural Center (he has the Picasso and the Water Tower in his eyes), the Chagall, Crossing (picture below, one of my favorites of all time, see how he lines up with Ceres goddess of wheat?) and of course, The Flamingo.
Now that we had the ordinance, well of course that’s not enough, you need to keep going! So we created the Public Art Program to actually implement the ordinance for places like police stations, libraries and CTA stations. Basically, the Department of Cultural Affairs commissions art, buys art, chooses the artists - with help from Alderman, community leaders, etc. The DCA is also responsible for maintaining the art and taking donated art and deciding where to put it. It also maintains the Chicago Public Art Collection, so if you see a piece of art that needs love, call the DCA, then they’ll send someone out to find it, fix it and love it.
The DCA studies the site, the work, etc., deciding which piece of artwork will work well where. This is not supposed to be a judgement on the art, but just to make sure they’re not putting something like The Flamingo in the lake or some shiznit. Then the DCA will evaluate all submissions, they may go outside their office to do that and talk to local art people, but they don’t have to.
As an artist, you can submit to be a part of the Public Art registry. They make it easy, cause they’re the DCA and they’re awesome. You can drop off your work on a cd, or by mail. Yes. Mail. When the DCA gets a location, they’ll check the registry first to see if there’s anything in there that might fit the bill.
And if that’s not enough of programs and groups and art, there’s also Chicago Gateway Green that runs the International Sculpture Program, this is where we get art from our Sister Cities and place larger scale works on expressways, etc. The most recognizable for me of course is “Being Born”, which is a little scary, but kinda cool.
LINK FUN: You can find the policies for the Public Art Program here. And a great public art guide you can find here. And here is a guide to public art on the CTA. Here’s a very handy map, with visuals, of all the commissioned public art in Chicago.
Thank you nice tourist lady for asking a great question.
Now, what’s your favorite piece of public art?