Chicago’s Push for Public Art

It all began with Picasso. When his piece was unveiled in Daley Plaza in 1967, no one knew what to think of it. Sure, it was out in the elements, but it was art just the same. If there were space, the piece would have been right at home in the Art Institute or any other museum.

And so was the birth of Chicago public art. Since that time, many pieces have been added to Chicago’s collection. Not only outdoor pieces like the affectionately-called the “Bean”, but also everything from sculpture to paintings in public buildings. Firehouses and libraries around the city contain works by both well-known and new artists, bringing more art to our already culture-rich community.

And how do these public buildings, parks, and plazas acquire such art? In 1978, a program was put in place called “Percent for Art” which requires 1% (now 1.33%) of the building costs to go toward art within or on the property of new construction or renovation. This program is not exclusive to Chicago. All around the country, cities are bringing visual art to their buildings with similar programs.

Recently, however, people are beginning to wonder what is happening to “Percent for Art” in Chicago. While the money is still being collected and held in accounts, many new and updated city properties have not yet spent a dime.

This sudden turn came when Rahm Emanuel was elected as mayor of Chicago. Under Daley’s supervision, millions of dollars went to art between 2004 and 2010. Between 2010 and now, a substantial chunk of the money that should go to art still sits in holding accounts.

Emanuel’s staff has played the problem down by saying that artists are still being chosen or the pieces are in the works, but the bottom line is that the art intended for those buildings is still not there. This not only affects those who would experience the art, but also the artists who would create it.
There are many artists who would be more than happy to create a painting to be hung in the new Blue Island Fire Station, acquiring not only recognition but also the funds to be able to continue their work. Hopefully soon the problem can be resolved, and art can continue being created for our public spaces.

So today we can appreciate the enormous amount of public art that the city brings to its residents and visitors. And, perhaps, tomorrow we will see new works by new artists adorning the new public buildings.

The Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt Amrany is proud to help add beauty in the form of art to Chicago. Our studio artists have created a variety of pieces including the sculpture of Michael Jordan outside the United Center.