2017, Chicago’s Year of Public Art


Cloud Gate in Chicago, IL, USA (Public Domain Picture)

Hello from Chicago, IL!

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs have declared 2017 the Year of Public Art (YOPA). But what does that mean, and why do we care?

Public art is an ambiguous term that can be applied to a lot of different forms and presentations of art. Basically, if the art is designed to be showcased in the public realm (libraries, murals, art in the park) then it is Public Art. “The Bean” in Millennium Park might be the most famous example of public art in Chicago (pictured above), but any glance at a tourist map will also highlight some other favorites – i.e. Calder’s arch in the Federal Plaza, the Paris Metro Entryway on Michigan Ave. and the Bronze Lions guarding the Art Institute. Chicago being the thriving arts city that it is (according to the Arts & Economic Prosperity report here, Arts & Culture generate $2.2 billion in Chicago from institutions and related spending) the YOPA is an exciting designation for Artists throughout the city. In the current political climate in both the nation and the state of Illinois, a year of focus on the public art in Chicago is good for morale and for the city.

The year of Public Art encompasses a variety of things, but mostly it is about extra funding, attention and programming. The headline projects include renewed focus on neighborhoods and youth, creating a matching grant program for new permanent installations in Chicago’s neighborhoods, and funding for paid internships- the Public Art Youth Corps. The funding for these programs is coming from the city, but lists two beneficiaries on the Year of Public Art web page- Allstate Insurance and Terra Foundation for American Art.

So what does Public Art really do? The value of art can always be debated- and public art can be an especially contentious one, especially when projects go awry or don’t turn out to be as “nice looking” as hoped. Though it could be argued that debate in itself is the value of Public Art (let’s hear it for dialogues!), I would say public art matters because that sculpture, or mural, or etc. gives a neighborhood its character, pays a person, and generally has some sort of local backstory to pay homage to. One of my favorite public art installations is the light/sound “plants” on State St. They change their tune based on the season.

And, it matters even more when politicians and city officials place specific emphasis on the arts! The paid internships, new contracts for local artists, and events all bring economy, development and commerce to youth, elders, and local business. The events will be a much needed escape in weeks to come. As someone with an artistic background, I inherently value art and its contribution to society. Art generates creativity, serves as freedom of speech, and most importantly acts as a catalyst for so many other things. Out of conversation comes dialogue, out of dialogue (hopefully) comes new thinking, and out of new thinking comes societal cohesion. That’s the dream at least.

Plus, who wants to walk down any old street when you can walk down one with a beautiful painted mural? I certainly prefer the latter.

If you’d like to read some more about the Year of Public Art in Chicago, please visit the DCASE website. I’m also including a link to a Public Art guide here if you want to check out any of the existing public art in Chicago. See you there!

Stay positive people.

– VZ

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