Public Art Challenge

Engaging creative communities to enhance the quality of life in cities


In October 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies invited mayors to collaborate with artists and arts organizations to develop innovative projects that engage residents and attract visitors. 237 cities submitted proposals, affirming the many ways in which the arts can celebrate, address, and advance critical urban issues. In March 2015, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced 12 finalist cities that presented innovative ideas and were poised to make significant local impact. These proposals covered a range of areas such as revitalization of decayed downtown areas, underutilized waterfronts, and vacant neighborhoods. They also addressed other social issues including civil rights, neighborhood safety, environmental sustainability, and promoting city identity.

In June 2015, the Public Art Challenge selected four winning teams to receive $1 million each over the next two years: Gary, IN; Los Angeles, CA; Spartanburg, SC; and a collaborative team from Albany, Schenectady and Troy, NY.



  1. Albany, Schenectady and Troy, NY – Breathing Lights
    Illuminating the Need for Community Revitalization

    Through a collaborative effort, the cities of Albany, Schenectady and Troy, NY transformed vacant buildings across the NY capital region into an art installation by placing pulsing light panels in the windows. The goal of Breathing Lights was to spark conversation about the issues of vacancy and urban revitalization among residents and policymakers. Artist Adam Frelin, architect Barbara Nelson, and more than 75 community and private sector partners, came together to bring the installation and a series of related public programming to life from September 30 – November 30, 2016.  This consortium culminated the project in April 2017 with a regional summit on vacant homes and abandoned buildings for local residents, prospective buyers and investors, and policymakers.

  2. Gary, IN – ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen
    Connecting Food and Art to Catalyze a Cultural District Gary_No_Type

    The City of Gary is transforming an underutilized downtown building into a cultural hub that showcases visual and culinary arts. ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen, which opened in November 2016, is a partnership between artist Theaster Gates and the City to create a civic center that features commissioned works of visual art, offers culinary training and business development workshops, and provides cultural programming that uses food as a medium for community engagement.  The City plans to use this public space as a catalyst to develop a cultural district and promote urban revitalization.

  3. Los Angeles, CA – CURRENT: LA Water
    Call to Action on Water Conservation Through Art

    The City of Los Angeles presented CURRENT:LA Water, the city’s first public art biennial, from July 16 – August 14, 2016. This project included 15 multidisciplinary works of art sited in parks and public spaces along the Los Angeles River, touching all 15 city council districts. Each of the 13 artists involved created artwork that responded to the importance of water and of critical issues related to conservation, ecology and drought. CURRENT:LA Water also engaged public program providers to host site-specific events focused on water-related topics in conjunction with the art installations.

  4. Spartanburg, SC – Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light
    Addressing Crime through Creative Partnerships

    With the goal of improving police-community relations and creating safer, more vibrant public spaces, the city of Spartanburg, SC worked with artist Erwin Redl on Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light. Redl collaborated with the City’s police and fire departments, along with neighborhood associations, to design and develop engaging light and media art installations that touched 10 neighborhoods across the City from Oct 4, 2016 – April 30, 2017.