October 1, 2016
In 1982, Mayor Edward Koch initiated a program called Percent for Art, which makes art accessible for all New Yorkers. The program requires one percent of the budget for eligible City-funded construction projects be spent on artwork for the facility. The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) determines the eligibility of projects and ensures artist selection is equitable. Since the program’s inception, over 300 projects have been completed.
The Percent for Art law only applies to City-owned capital construction projects that provide public services and accessibility. These projects include schools, firehouses, police precincts, courthouses, hospitals, clinics, prisons, detention centers, parks, shelters and sanitation facilities.
“DDC enthusiastically embraces the Percent for Art requirement and engages cutting edge artists to improve the user experience of the City’s public buildings,” said DDC Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora. “It’s a symbiotic relationship as installations by accomplished professional artists enhance the artistic qualities we incorporate into our public buildings, and our public buildings in turn are outstanding venues that enhance the artist’s work. The ultimate beneficiaries are the New Yorkers who use these facilities every day.”
According to the Percent for Art law, artwork eligible for consideration includes “all forms of visual arts conceived in any medium, material or combination thereof.” First, the funds for the artwork are determined by the construction budget. Next, artwork is selected through a process that includes the City agency representing the construction project, the architect, an artist selection panel and members of the local community.
As the City’s primary capital construction project manager, we build many of the facilities that incorporate artwork from the Percent for Art program. Xenia Diente, the Deputy Director of Public Art and Design Initiatives at DDC, is a liaison between DDC and DCLA for this program. Xenia has worked with emerging and established artists to install over 30 permanent public art projects, with an additional 33+ underway. Xenia says it is her objective to uphold the values of the Percent for Art Program by “supporting and creating new opportunities for public art that are aesthetically sophisticated, add social and civic value, and reflect an understanding of multiple publics.”
One of her favorite projects is George Trakas’ Waterfront Nature Walk because it uses public art to bring together layers of history, infrastructure, and the environment to encourage visitors to consider the significance of inhabiting this space now. Waterfront Nature Walk provides public access to the waterfront in a neighborhood with limited public open space. It was conceived as a critical component of the Newtown Creek Water Pollution Control Plant master plan for reconstruction.
At Elmhurst Library, artist Allan McCollum, as a part of his ongoing Shapes project, created a system to produce a collection of 31 billion unique shapes. The artist hopes the Elmhurst community will find the work to be representative of their dual goals of unity and diversity. Watch the video above to learn more!