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Your City Defined: Percent For Arts Program

This is the reason you can meet your friends at the Clothespin.

Established in March 1959 by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, the Percent for Arts Program requires developers to allocate at least one percent of building construction costs of redevelopment projects to the commissioning of original, specific-to-the-site artworks. This was the first legislation of its kind passed in the United States.

The Percent For Arts Program was part of Richardson Dilworth’s vision for Philadelphia. Mayor of Philadelphia from 1956 to 1962, Dilworth presided over Philadelphia’s Modern Golden Age, restored parks and historical sites, reformed public transportation, and established a public housing system, among other things.

Since the inception of the Percent for Arts Program, nearly 400 pieces of artwork have been installed in Philadelphia. These include “Wave Forms” by Dennis Oppenheim (Domus Building 34th & Chestnut Street); “Plateau” by Andrea Blum (University of Pennsylvania, 40th & Walnut Streets); “Open Air Aquarium” by Magdalena Abakanowicz (Dockside, Columbus Boulevard); and “Goldilocks” by Ming Fay (Tivoli Building, 20th & Hamilton Streets).

In an effort to ensure that the artworks are fully integrated into the community, the Redevelopment Authority requires that 5 percent of the Percent for Art contribution goes to educational programming about communities and public art. This “Percent for Community” may take the form of artist workshops, arts education, pamphlets and audio tours.

While this was a groundbreaking program 50 years ago, its model has since been improved by other cities, according to a PennPraxis study commissioned in 2008. Cities seem to have solved issues that plague Philadelphia’s version of the program: lack of funding for ongoing maintenance and conservation of the collection of these public artworks, and the inability of the city to enforce the program and ensure that developers are complying.

Unfortunately, the program has received minimal funding and support from the Redevelopment Authority and several mayoral administrations. With a bare-bones staff and little funding, developers face little punishment if they do not comply with the Percent for Arts Program demands.

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