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Local Artists program: Percent for Art Ordinance

Anthony Brass

The City of Chicago’s Percent for Art Ordinance program is a process that has become an excellent vehicle for local artist exposure.

There are stages that artists can go through to obtain one of the highly visible locations throughout the city. At any given time projects are happening at a branch library, police district facility, city office building, outdoor space or airport.

Ann Wiens, Black Swallowtail Caterpillar with Photovoitaic Panel. Courtesy of City of Chicago Public Art Program website.

There is an international artist registry that’s open to anyone, but the majority of the selection process includes local, community involvement with artists and local decision-makers.

“At the beginning of the project we host a community meeting that coordinates with the alderman’s office,” says Elizabeth Kelley, the director of visual arts/ public art program.

“We reach out to community art organizations to come to that meeting, learn about the project, and then make recommendations for either specific artists and specific type of work.”

Prominent art members are asked what type of work would be relevant for the space that is up for the artwork placement.

Kelley says that they open up the discussion so offers and opinions of preference are heard. Of course, local artists are always recommended at the meetings.

A Beverly location included a venue that was discussed for an artists’ art placement. Tim Anderson is considered one of the best portrait artists in Chicago, and was recommended for the project.

“The idea was portraits of famous writers of Chicago (for the project). Tim Anderson was in our registry; who was yet to be in the collection. His name was put in for consideration.”

The selection of the artist always starts and ends with the community input. “It’s always an organic process,” Kelley adds. After the recommendations in the meeting, the curatorial staff will take information and develop a list of artists out of the registry. There is advertising on their Web site and the monthly Chicago artists’ resource Web site, announcing projects. Artists are asked to submit their work once they answer the ad.

The staff asks art professionals to come and meet to give their assessment on the artists considered for the project. Their artist recommendations are also heard.

“We will go back to the community to ask for help to develop a short list,” Kelley says. The information gathered at the first meeting and curatorial input is implemented.

Artists are contacted and asked if they are interested. They are asked to submit a proposal for which they are paid $500 or $1,000, depending on the budget of the project.

Final proposals by the artists include a small-scale rendering, model, or digital images and concepts for the work. A final community meeting ends the process.

“We have a minimum of two community meetings, sometimes more. The proposals are discussed. That’s how the final decision gets rendered.”

Previously, there were project advisory panels with seven decision-makers, giving recommendations to a larger body compromising art professionals and commissioners of city agencies involved in public art programs. Those include: libraries, agencies that do construction, the city architect, someone from the Dept. of Transportation and commissioner of aviation. The committee was chaired by the commissioner of cultural affairs.

The ordinance was revised in 2007. Kelley says the system now is more of a community, input-friendly evaluation.

“We end up with more than two voices representing the community. We find it’s really successful. It’s much more open-flowing process. We have many more voices at the table than we did before.”

Projects have included the aforementioned Beverly branch library “Chicago author” portraits, by well-known local artist Tim Anderson.

Beverly neighborhood resident Brian Richard has made landscape paintings on shaped canvasses. Cecil McDonald is a photographer who is completing color pictorial works.

Lakeview resident Todd Palmer is currently completing an exterior sculpture on the parking garage at the 23rd District Police Station in Lakeview; and two interior wall sculptures in the lobby. The opening is scheduled for November.

“They are really compelling works of art,” says Kelley, of the year-old project.

Generally, the contracts are for a calendar year. Some are done in conjunction with a current construction project.

There are announcements of projects, guidelines including explanations how works are commissioned, downloadable applications, links to images of works, etc. at: www.cityofchicago.org/publicart

The full service site for visual arts, dance, music, theater and the disciplines, job and space postings can be found at: www.chicagoartsitsresource.org