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Bloomberg Philanthropies Announces 12 Cities in the Running to Receive Up to $1 Million in Funding for Public Art Projects that Address Civic Topics

237 U.S. Cities Applied from 45 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico

Bloomberg Philanthropies today announced 12 finalist cities in the running to receive up to $1 million each as part of the Public Art Challenge, a new program aimed at supporting temporary public art projects that engage communities, enhance creativity, and enrich the vibrancy of cities. Bloomberg Philanthropies invited mayors of U.S. cities with 30,000 residents or more to submit proposals for innovative temporary public art projects that address a civic issue, and demonstrate close collaboration between artists or arts organizations and city government. More than 230 cities submitted proposals for consideration in the Public Art Challenge, representing 68 million residents across the United States.

Proposals cover a range of areas such as the revitalization of decayed downtown areas, underutilized waterfronts, and vacant neighborhoods. They also address other social themes including civil rights, neighborhood safety, environmental sustainability, and promoting city identity.

“At a time when imaginative ideas are redefining every industry, cities increasingly realize how important it is to embrace and encourage creativity,” said Michael R. Bloomberg. “There was a great response to the challenge we issued, and we hope these projects spur new excitement about the ways public art can strengthen neighborhoods, inspire residents and fuel local economies.”

The following 12 finalists have been invited to submit a full proposal:

1. Albany, Schenectady and Troy, NY – Breathing Lights
Illuminating the Need for Community Revitalization
The City of Albany, in partnership with its neighboring cities of Schenectady and Troy, proposes to illuminate up to 500 vacant homes nightly over two months. Working with artist Adam Frelin and more than 25 community and private sector partners, including the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, this multi-site installation aims to regenerate interest in once-vibrant neighborhoods that currently have high vacancy rates. This consortium proposes to culminate the project with a regional summit on vacant homes and abandoned buildings to engage local residents, prospective buyers and investors, and policy makers. 

2. Albuquerque, NM – Albuquerque’s Orphan Signs of Route 66 and Beyond
Engaging Youth and Local Artists to Enliven Barren Spaces
The City of Albuquerque proposes to commission artwork for 20 unused, uniquely-designed, vintage road sign frames located in empty lots and alongside vacant businesses on Route 66. The City plans to issue a national RFP for artists to create site-specific installations for many of these “orphan signs.” As part of the project, two local non-profit arts organizations, Working Classroom and Friends of the Orphan Signs, will engage youth and local artists in transforming several of the signs and enlivening the barren spaces they occupy through art interventions.

3. Atlanta, GA – Freedom Now
Highlighting Atlanta’s Civil Rights Legacy
The City of Atlanta proposes to activate Freedom Park, a 200-acre public park located in the heart of Atlanta’s civil rights district, through interactive installations of art. A series of colorful glass arches designed by artist Xenobia Bailey would be installed throughout the park along with calls to action that invite viewers to initiate conversations about freedom. Four local artists will be invited to develop art projects that highlight Atlanta’s legacy of advancing freedom, encouraging interaction among viewers, and promoting dialogue about contemporary civil rights issues.

4. Boston, MA – The Sapphire Necklace
Using Culture to Enliven the Harbor
The City of Boston proposes to invigorate its harbor by linking four waterfront sites through artist projects. In partnership with the Institute of Contemporary Art and Massachusetts College of Art and Design, the City plans to commission artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller to develop an immersive site-specific artwork alongside pop-up exhibitions and installations by regional and local artists that will reimagine these public spaces.

5. Chicago, IL – Make Way for Art: Activating Chicago’s Public Plazas
Revitalizing Public Space through Art
The City of Chicago proposes to commission artists to work with local stakeholders in reimagining six geographically and demographically diverse public spaces. Designated artists will develop projects to renew underutilized public malls and plazas through a multi-year initiative of artist-community collaborations, art experiences, and performances.

6. Des Moines, IA – Listening to Water
Calling Attention to Local River Ecology and Urban Water Trails
The City of Des Moines proposes to create art projects along its public waterways to engage the community in dialogue about local river ecology. Partnering with curator M. Jessica Rowe, these art projects will aim to explore urban water trails, watershed planning and river space.

7. Gary, IN – ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen
Connecting Food and Art to Develop a Cultural District
The City of Gary proposes to transform a vacant building into a cultural hub that showcases visual and culinary arts. Partnering with artist Theaster Gates, the City will use this public space as a catalyst to develop a cultural district and promote urban revitalization.

8. Grand Rapids, MI – SiTE:LAB – Rumsey Street Project
Revitalizing Vacant Structures for Art Performances
The City of Grand Rapids proposes to convert four adjacent vacant structures into a temporary art center with large-scale site specific art installations and performances. Partnering with SiTE:LAB and Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, the City plans to conduct an international design competition to temporarily transform the site into a vibrant cultural destination before transitioning it to affordable housing

9. Hartford, CT – Subject Matter
Honoring and Inspiring Civically Engaged Citizens
The City of Hartford proposes a series of community portraits and neighborhood processions by artist Nari Ward to honor the City’s past and future. The project aims to generate conversations about local issues, inspiring and honoring citizen participation. The community portraits would be distributed via social media, newspapers and magazines, and exhibited on billboards and buses.

10. Los Angeles, CA – CURRENT: LA River
Call to Action on Water Conservation Through Art
The City of Los Angeles proposes to establish a Public Art Biennial, with an inaugural installation of contemporary art along the Los Angeles River. Working with independent curator Marc Pally, the City would commission five large-scale, multidisciplinary art works, along with smaller commissions and educational programming to support the focus of topics including water conservation, ecology and drought.

11. Maplewood, MN – Kid City
Empowering the Youth Community
The City of Maplewood proposes a series of interactive installations and collaborative programs to strengthen connections among the City’s multi-cultural youth community. Participatory arts group Z Puppets Rosenschnoz plans to engage middle school students and teens in reimagining their city, sparking dialogue about current challenges and potential solutions through a multidisciplinary arts initiative.

12. Spartanburg, SC – Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light
Addressing Crime through Creative Partnerships
The City of Spartanburg proposes temporary light installations on city-owned public spaces in up to seven neighborhoods to coincide with National Night Out, an annual event that promotes crime prevention efforts, police-community partnership and neighborhood camaraderie. Artist Erwin Redl plans to collaborate with the City’s Police and Fire departments, and neighborhood associations selected through a competitive process, to develop and design light installations that would transform open spaces and create safer and more vibrant neighborhoods.

Submissions were evaluated on their potential viability as dynamic public art projects, capacity to establish or strengthen public-private partnerships, inclusion of strong audience engagement strategies, and commitment to evaluating outcomes and impact on the host city.

Cities of all sizes applied: nearly 50% of the 237 submissions were from cities with populations between 30,000 and 100,000, 38% had populations between 100,000 and 500,000, and 13% of the applicant cities had over 500,000 residents. A variety of artistic disciplines were represented amongst the applications: 61% of the proposed public art projects involved visual art, 19% combined multiple disciplines, 17% featured digital media, and 3% were performing art projects.

The Public Art Challenge grant will cover development, execution and project related expenditures but will not fund 100% of project costs.

The grant is intended to provide catalytic funds as part of a strong, committed consortium of supporters. At least three winning cities will be selected in May to execute their projects over a maximum of 24 months.

More information about the Public Art Challenge, including links to images and maps can be found here.

Bloomberg Philanthropies has a proven track record of supporting creative and innovative public art that enlivens urban landscapes. In 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies supported artist Tobias Rehberger’s Dazzle Ship in London; We the People, Dahn Vo’s multi-site exhibition in New York City, organized by Public Art Fund; and Doug and Mike Starn’s Big Bambú installation in Jerusalem.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies’ mission is to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: Public Health, Environment, Education, Government Innovation and the Arts. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $462 million. For more information on the philanthropy, please visit or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @BloombergDotOrg.