Bloomberg Foundation Launches Public Art Challenge

10-13-14 Dazzle Ship Tobias Rehberger
Tobias Rehberger’s public art work 'Dazzle Ship' in London Steve White/Bloomberg Philanthropies

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, is giving at least three cities up to $1 million each to sponsor public art projects, the foundation announced Monday.

"Public art projects play a vital role in bringing new energy to cities—along with new visitors and more economic activity," Bloomberg is quoted in a press release. The temporary public art projects are meant to "engage communities, enhance creativity and enrich the vibrancy of cities."

Starting Monday, cities with a population of 30,000 or more can submit applications for "innovative temporary public art projects that demonstrate close collaboration between artists, or arts organizations and city government."

The applications for the "public art challenge" must be submitted by the city's mayor or chief official by December 15. The foundation will ask finalists in February 2015 to follow up their applications with more elaborate proposals. In May, it will announce at least three winners, who will have two years and up to $1 million each to complete the projects.

The challenge appealed to Bloomberg because he has always been intrigued with ways innovative thinkers can impact communities, a foundation employee tells Newsweek, including artists. The program could help city leaders see their creative communities as partners and problem solvers rather than marginal figures, the employee said, while public art works tend to bolster a sense of identity as residents see the neighborhood in a new way.

The foundation says on its site that it will look for excellent, innovative projects in the visual arts, performing arts or multimedia, which have the potential for positive impact and a plan for evaluating that impact. Other criteria include proof of partnership between local government and artists and/or arts organizations, evidence of feasibility and implementation, an appropriate budget, a strong strategy for outreach and engagement, and additional financial or in-kind supporters.

The announcement comes at a time when a drop in public funding for the arts highlights the need for private funds, The New York Times reported. Arts funding on the federal, state, and local levels, when adjusted for inflation, declined by more than 30 percent between 1992 and 2013, according to a 2013 report by Grantmakers in the Arts, an organization that leverages philanthropic resources to support art and cultural initiatives.

Bloomberg was a strong supporter of the arts during his term as New York City mayor from 2002 to 2013. Despite the fact that the former mayor was not particularly fond of the arts on a personal level, his administration was lauded for doing "more to promote and support the arts than any in a generation," Jennifer Steinhauer wrote in The New York Times in 2005.

"Under Mr. Bloomberg, public art has flourished in every corner of the city—from Element E, a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture in the center of the former Tweed Courthouse, to a classic limestone statue in the Bronx, to The Gates, set up by Christo and Jeanne-Claude last winter [in February 2005] in Central Park," Steinhauer wrote.

Public art has often been shown to have a positive financial impact on a city, the foundation said. The Gates in Central Park attracted 4 million visitors in just over two weeks when it was installed in February 2005, generating roughly $254 million in economic impact, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies. In 2008, The New York City Waterfalls brought nearly $70 million in economic impact over five months, and 23 percent of the total 1.4 million visited the Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn waterfront for the first time to see the project. The Bay Lights project on San Francisco's Bay Bridge is expected to be seen in person by more than 50 million people over the course of two years, and to generate more than $90 million in economic impact.

Though the Public Art Challenge is in its first iteration, Bloomberg Philanthropies has funded individual projects in the past, includingBig Bambú by Doug and Mike Starn in Jerusalem, Dazzle Ship by Tobias Rehberger in London, and We the People by Dahn Vo in New York City. If the program goes well, the foundation plans to expand the program or pursue similar projects in the future.

10-13-14 Big Bambu Mike and Doug Starn
'Big Bambú,' a public art installation by Mike and Doug Starn, in Jerusalem. Mike and Doug Starn/Bloomberg Philanthropies
10-13-14 We the People Dahn Vo
The Public Art Fund exhibition of 'We the People' by Dahn Vo in New York City. James Ewing/Public Art Fund

The foundation hopes that in addition to economic impact, the initiative will promote broad and democratic access to innovative and creative installations, the foundation employee said.

Monday's press released quotes Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, whose city has received funding from past Bloomberg Philanthropies initiatives, as saying, "Art should not only be accessible in museums and theaters, but also in public spaces, encouraging citizens to appreciate new forms of expression every day."