Advocates for excellence in the urban environment

Art for New York: The Making of a Public Art Collection

Wednesday, November 20, 2019
6:30 p.m.
Smack Mellon
92 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

New York City’s vast collection of public art dates to the dawn of the 1800s, and spans a remarkable array of works installed in and among parks, plazas, libraries, court buildings, fire stations, and other civic sites. Encompassing sculpture, painting, lighting, mosaic, glass, textiles, and more, the collection amounts to a five-borough museum with dazzling reach and impact.

Rarely considered as a whole, this body of work gives rise to questions about the value of public art, its evolution over time, and its relevance to an ever-evolving city. How can an urban art collection grow and change? Should we expect public artworks to endure forever? What special considerations are needed for art that’s integrated into infrastructure and architecture? How do we maintain works of wide-ranging materials and methods? And how can we ensure an equitable public art process that reflects a diverse city?

On the occasion of its 2019 Annual Meeting, The Fine Arts Federation of New York, in partnership with the NYC Public Design Commission, presented an evening of dialogue about how public art is commissioned, created, reviewed, and maintained. We shared the perspectives of those directly engaged in the public art process: an artist who recently completed a public monument in the South Bronx; representatives of the Public Design Commission, which oversees permanent, city-owned artworks; the artist and curator who leads the city’s Percent for Art program, which has commissioned hundreds of site-specific projects since 1982; and the Parks Department’s leading authority on art and antiquities.

Panelists included:

Keri Butler, Deputy Executive Director, NYC Public Design Commission
Melissa Calderón
, Artist
Kendal Henry, Director, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art Program
Jonathan Kuhn, Director, Art & Antiquities, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation

Members of the NYC Public Design Commission served as respondents:

Philip E. Aarons, PDC Lay Member and Partner, Millennium Partners 
Mary A. Valverde, PDC Sculptor Member and Interdisciplinary Artist

Top image, from left:

Sugar in my Bowl by Chakaia Booker, Weeksville Heritage Center, Buffalo Avenue, Brooklyn, 2012
Swing Low by Alison Saar, Harriet Tubman Plaza at St. Nicholas Avenue, Manhattan, 2008
Joan of Arc by Anna Von Hyatt Huntington, 93rd Street and Riverside Drive, Manhattan, 1915
Plaza Perch by Austin Thomas, Humboldt Plaza at Humboldt Street, Brooklyn, 2016