Last year, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced its first-ever Public Art Challenge. The concept was simple. The foundation invited U.S. cities to develop "temporary public art projects that enhance cultural and economic activity" while establishing "robust public-private partnerships between local government and other funders."
As we noted at the time, it wasn't the most original idea in the world. (Then again, originality is overrated. Some of us prefer the Monkees to the Beatles, for instance.) That said, the project had one interesting twist. Mayors in cities with populations of 30,000—not arts organizations, it should be noted—were required to submit proposals.
Bloomberg's challenge mirrored a larger gravitation by foundations toward creative placemaking that, in turns, mirrors countless examples of urban renewal taking place across the country. (Which, interestingly enough, begets a classic "chicken and the egg" argument.)
But we digress. Seven months and 237 submissions later, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced that the funds will go to four projects based in Los Angeles, California; Gary, Indiana; Spartanburg, South Carolina; and a joint proposal from three New York cities—Albany, Schenectady and Troy. Here are the details:
- The artist Theaster Gates will lead a project in Gary titled "ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen," which involves transforming a vacant building into a cultural center with the intent of sparking further cultural development. (In a nice little piece of irony, as previously noted, the Knight Foundation—no stranger to public art challenges—is a high-profile backer of "ArtHouse.")
- The Los Angeles project, "Current: L.A. River," includes commissions for artworks and public programs focused on environmental concerns, as part of the city’s first Public Art Biennial.
- The project "Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light" will place temporary installations in that city’s public spaces as part of a crime-prevention effort.
- The three New York cities will work with the artist Adam Frelin and the architect Barbara Nelson to illuminate vacant homes, in an effort to revive neighborhoods in decline, in a project called "Breathing Lights."
The temporary projects are to be completed within two years, with the winning cities required to contribute financially as well.