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Percent for Art Ordinance

Anthony Brass

8th District Police Station by Mike Mandel

More than 32 years ago, the City of Chicago’s Public Art Program launched the Percent for Art Ordinance, which declared that 1.33 percent of the cost of renovating and constructing public spaces and municipal buildings will be “devoted to original artwork on the premises.”

That community, original art-based program is still going strong today, as it provides Chicago area artists a venue to show their talent to the public. The city was one of the pioneers in the program, aiming to improve the public environment through the selection and subsequent placement of professional artists in city buildings and public spaces.

“This is a community-driven selection process,” says Elizabeth Kelley, director of the visual arts/ public arts program.

8th District Police Station by Mike Mandel

“We rely on community input for what type of art they are interested in for their branch library or their district police station. Then balance that with artists who are either up-and-coming, or established artists who have not yet been recognized with a public art commission.”

Kelley added that they are putting together a collection that is a tremendous investment.

“We balance these; we do right by both—with community as well as getting the very best art for our budget,” Kelley says.

The program includes 500 works in 150 facilities throughout the city and both airports. The most visible example of this program is the Riverwalk Gateway. The work here by local arist Ellen Lanyon, includes the area along the footpath/ bike path that goes underneath Lake Shore Drive, connecting the south river in the Loop, proceeding to connect with the Lakefront path.

Panopia by Jones & Ginzel

As a result of the program the city receives a permanent art collection to enjoy. Many prominent city spaces and newer municipal buildings receive the enhancements.

“All of the new police district buildings qualify (under) the Ordinance,” Kelley says. “I think that’s a really unique feature for these collections—we do have cutting edge, interesting contemporary art in all the new station lobbies.”

Kelley says the ordinance also has been a great employer of Chicago artists. The collection must be 51 percent Chicago-based artists. Today, that commission rate has jumped up to 80 percent.

“We feel that’s a very important component of the program.”

She also said that the program has produced great references for artists once working here, that live in other cities hoping to land a commission elsewhere.

The main challenge for the program today is to maintain the collection through cataloging done on the works. Repairs are a priority.

E Pluribus Unum Series by Kymberli Johnson

“We only established the Public Art Endowment Fund in 1999, that allows us to do major repairs and upkeep. Otherwise, in maintaining the program, the curatorial staff here is always seeking to find the new talent that will be a really good investment for the city.

“We are a really fortunate city. It (the program) has gone on without interruption top great success.”

For more information please visit, www.cityofchicago.org/publicart