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New York City Takes Public Art to the Digital Realm

Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl takes to Instagram tours to expose public art to a greater audience.
August 3, 2015, 8:30pm

In an effort to share the more than 300 public artworks that span New York's five boroughs and increase the visibility of local public art, the city has created the Instagram account @NYCulture and the hashtag #NYCultureOnWheels, an initiative of the city’s Percent for Art organization.

“Before this administration there was no Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram,” Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Tom Finkelpearl, tells The Creators Project. “We have this amazing program with fantastic art and even though it’s public art, the public doesn’t necessarily know much about it and #NYCultureOnWheels is one way to highlight that.” Before Finkelpearl took office, the city's digital art presence was virtually nonexistent.

To kick off the initiative, the city recently invited people on a tour of public art in Brooklyn. The first stops were to The Brooklyn Public Library to see Thomas Jones’ famous literary figures gilded in 23k gold leaf, and the Prospect Park Zoo to view Mags HarriesToplary: A Twenty Year Project, a set of aluminum sculptures surrounded by plantings of boxwood, which has grown to fill the works—intertwining snakes—out over the last 15 years. The tour also stopped at Public School 244 to see Bill and Mary Buchen’s Sound Carnival, an interactive drum and sound work that doubles as instruments for recess.

 The four-hour tour highlighted the existence of public art in almost every neighborhood in Brooklyn. “One of the projects, at the Brooklyn Project Library, the gold leaf façade, is a conservation project," Commissioner Finkelpearl explains, "so Percent for Art also preserves historic buildings as well, as part of its mission.”

The public art program, Percent for Art, was launched in 1982, and by law uses 1% of New York City’s budget for eligible city-funded construction projects to commission contemporary artists to create permanent public works. For over 30 years, the art ordinance has changed the cultural landscapes of communities around the city by commissioning site-specific projects in a variety of mediums. These works can be found on the facades of schools, hospitals, and in neighborhood parks, among other public spaces in the city. “Artists are able to submit their proposals and the work is commissioned by a peer review board with capital money. This program is how the city directly funds artists,” says Finkelpearl, who was previously a director of Percent for Art, and commissioned works by Carrie Mae Weems and Young Soon Min.

The tour, which was led by current curator and director of Percent for Art, Kendal Henry, ended with Toshio Sasaki’s abstract oceanic scene, First Symphony of the Sea, on the Coney Island Boardwalk. “In the fall we are doing Staten Island to get the word out about the art there,” says Commissioner Finkelpearl of the city’s burgeoning digital effort.

To see more of the city’s public art, follow @NYCulture on Instagram.

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