Paint the City

Chicago announces the city’s first public art plan

Art Midwest
Chicago announces the city's first public art plan. The Juame Plensa Crown Fountain is one of Chicago's most popular pieces of public art. (squidish/Flickr)
Chicago announces the city's first public art plan. The Juame Plensa Crown Fountain is one of Chicago's most popular pieces of public art. (squidish/Flickr)

Of all the events and programs associated with this year’s “Year of Public Art” in Chicago, it may be the recent announcement of the city’s first Public Art Plan that will have the longest-lasting effect. Rounding out a year which included a new art festival, the 50th anniversary of some of the city’s most beloved public pieces, a new youth art corps, and numerous other city-initiated art commissions, the Public Art Plan outlines the city’s goals and focus regarding the future of art in the public domain.

Building off the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012, a large portion of the plan is focused directly on reassessing the process of commissioning art and shifting the way the city talks about and supports artists. To do so, the Public Art Plan lays out a series of guidelines which the city plans to implement over the coming years. The seven points in the plan include:

  • Update Chicago’s Percent for Art Program
  • Establish clear and transparent governmental practices
  • Expand resources to support the creation of public art throughout the city
  • Advance programs that support artists, neighborhoods and the public good
  • Strengthen the City’s collection management systems
  • Support the work that artists and organizations do to create public art
  • Build awareness of and engagement with Chicago’s public art

For a city which is generally understood in a color palette of subdued browns, blacks, and grays, Chicago has a long history of diverse public art pieces, and that diversity is evolving quickly. From sculpture to murals, the new plan hopes to adjust the city’s scope of what is understood as public art. Chicago has often been on the forefront of public art, being the first city, in 1978, to create a city-funded public art program. Even before that though, Chicago was home to one of the first monumental abstract sculptures in the world with the Picasso in Daley Plaza.

Chicago’s long history of street art continues to redefine what is public art as the city and private interests increasingly commission pieces. (Victor Grigas/Wikimedia Commons)

“As Chicago powers forward as an engine of creative life, we ought not to forget that public art isn’t just one discipline,” explained Mark Kelly, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) upon the announcement of the new plan. “It’s how we as a city bring artistic vision to our streets and to the public realm. By engaging in public art, we bring value, meaning and pride to Chicago”

It should be noted that nowhere in the plan are there appropriations to paint, move, or otherwise cover Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate in pasta sauce.

The plan can be found here in its entirety.

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