In 1986, when the New York City public art program was still in its early stages, the Times praised Seattle for having one of the best municipal public art collections in the country. Nowadays, the city continues to grapple with its contentious historic monuments, while also striving to create a vision for the future that celebrates the voices, experiences, and values of all New Yorkers. This is where public art comes into play. Public art has been a transformative force in New York City's urban landscape.
In recent years, the city has seen a number of ambitious projects that have left a lasting impression on its culture and identity. For instance, in 2008, four monumental artificial waterfalls were installed at four sites along the waterfront. This project, which was funded by the Public Art Fund, was designed to draw attention to the city's waterfront and create a more vibrant public space. In addition to large-scale projects like this one, there have been a number of smaller initiatives that have had an equally powerful effect on the city.
For example, in 2017, artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles created a project called PAIR (Public Art in Residence) that enabled artists to work collaboratively and in open processes with partner municipal agencies to achieve long-term community impact. This project was inspired by Ukeles' pioneering work for the New York City Department of Sanitation. In 2018, Elmgreen & Dragset transformed Rockefeller Center by adding a vertical pool to the 5th Avenue entrance of the pedestrian plaza. This project was part of an effort to make public spaces more accessible for cultural use and create thriving neighborhoods throughout New York City.
Last March, legislation was introduced that seeks to ensure that public art is approved with input from New Yorkers and reflects their values and experiences. The number of historic women represented on statues or monuments in New York City is sadly low, but this is something that the city hopes to rectify in the coming years. In addition, there have been a number of projects that celebrate diversity and inclusion in New York City. For example, artist Vik Muniz created Perfect Strangers, which is believed to be the first permanent, non-explicitly political art installation in New York that portrays a gay couple.
For more than 40 years, the Public Art Fund has brought some of the world's most renowned creative forces closer to an audience comprised of both locals and visitors to New York City through ambitious free exhibitions. These exhibitions offer powerful encounters with art and the urban landscape and have helped shape New York City's culture and identity.