Friday, December 18, 2009

Everybody Is an Artist!

The City of Philadelphia’s visual art exhibition program Art In City Hall, in collaboration with the National Arts Program Foundation, last night opened the 10th National Arts Program at Philadelphia, an exhibition featuring works of art by City of Philadelphia government employees and their families, including children.  Participants of this year’s exhibit come from many different departments and agencies in City government, including DHS, Law, Commerce, Free Library, Prisons, Police, Fire, Water, Courts, City Council and more.

The exhibition is open to the public from December 17 to February 19, 2010 and is located on the fifth floor of City Hall, north corridor.

The thing I love about this program is how it engages the full scope of Philadelphia's public employees, and shows that we have social workers, police officers, fire fighters, code enforcement officials, attorneys, administrators, etc. who are artists. These are people who make MAKING art a part of their life, and there is some great talent out there. For years Business Committee for the Arts (now part of Americans for the Arts) encouraged similar programs in business. Here is a link to a synopsis of a Forum held in DC a couple of years ago on the impact of art in the workplace programs.


  1. While I'm sure that this is only a 'feel good' exhibition meant to placate city council, it does nothing to advance the status of the Philadelphia Arts community. I was hoping for something more substantial from someone in your position. Maybe something to alleviate the brain drain? Something to create a solid collecting base to ensure that we don't continually lose curators, artists, collectors,etc to NY? I implore you to do something lasting!!

  2. I think there is room in our community for a wide array of efforts, some of which engage and celebrate the informal, or amateur, arts, and some of which support and promote our professional arts sector - individual artists, galleries, etc. The National Arts Program exhibition program is not presented to "placate City Council" but to serve our citizens and contribute to a diverse array of art programming at City Hall.

    As you may know there are several professional, curated exhibitons that take place in City Hall. We are also now beginning work on a new art gallery space in City Hall, to be located on the first floor, which will make a powerful statement about the importance of the arts to our City. We have begun looking at efforts to bring more temporary public art to the City, such as the recent installation of work by Jun Kaneko in the City Hall Courtyard. We have also been able to secure $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to be used for a Creative Industry Workforce grants program that will fund capital projects by nonprofit arts organizations but also for profit creative industry businesses and individual artists. We have also provided lots of mostly behind the scenes support and facilitation to such efforts as Design Philadelphia, Hidden City, Philagraphika, Art in the Open, and the Kimmel Center's Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.

    I realize many feel there is a need to foster a stronger base of local collectors who will buy locally rather than travel to New York or Art Basel to acquire their art. This is a complex issue, and I welcome ideas on what role my Office might play in addressing it. There are lots of conversations already taking place. But please let's not denigrate amateur artists and turn this into an either/or proposition. It is both/and. Thanks so much for reading the blog and sharing your thoughts!

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    As the coordinator of the NAP exhibition here in Philadelphia, I can assure you that the exhibit is not intended to satisfy or allign our small program with City Council, or any elected officials in City Hall. Our shows for professional artists also rely on independent jurors. I don't think Winifred Lutz would have agreed to jury "Paper Works!" if that were not the case; nor Ken Vavrek, founder of the Clay Studio, jury the upcoming "Abstract Clay: Forms and Surfaces" exhibition, which will coincide with the NCECA conference in April.

    I can understand your frustration, but obviously I have a different perspective. I think we live in a rather exciting time, a very active time, with many different perspectives of what art is and can be. Government can play a strong role as facilitator, nurturer and promoter, but I would also look to our citizens, our artists to pave the way. It's time to join together and not perpetuate the divisions that have plagued the arts in the past. Supporting art education and making art more relevant and accessible to the community is a necessary long term strategy. We need to do more to plant seeds so that the next generation of Philadelphians won't have to ask why art is important or have to deal with the false choices between the arts and some other city services being cut.
    Clearly there are different levels of art, but I would argue that the "brain drain" occurs not when we introduce new people to art, but when art is dismissed entirely. We need "feel good" shows as much as we need a more serious forum for aesthetic exploration.

  4. Dear Gary and Tu,

    I appreciate your extensive comments on this issue. I am aware of most of the projects to which you both speak. I am not discounting the effort that you both have put forth. However, I do take issue with many of the nuances of some of these programs. For instance, the Creative Industry Workforce grants program seems to be wholly geared toward the interest of non-profits. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does nothing to help support the financial security of professional philadelphia artists. I see that for profit organizations are allowed to apply but baring reconstruction of the space what would a for-profit gallery be applying for? A grant to pay for a space at artBasil? It just doesn't seem to fill any need. Its another boon for non-profits which have a poor track record of developing artist's careers, and any substantial collecting base.
    I have heard about the gallery space that is being installed in city hall. I was thrilled at hearing that. However, it seems that there are a number of issues regarding access to said space. I assume that those are wrinkles yet to be sorted out. Esp. considering there's no point setting up a gallery space there that the public doesn't know about or can't easily enter.
    Regarding education of art etc. I don't disagree that there is a substantial need to educate and inform the public about art. However, aren't there enough non-profits in Philadelphia with that very mission?

    Tu, you refer to the government as a 'facilitator, nurturer and promoter'. Therefore by your own admission the Philadelphia City government is promoting amateur artists. Isn't that the wrong signal to be sending about the quality of art produced here? Also, not trying to knock Winifred Lutz or Ken Vavrek but as a large major city can't we get people with a little more cache? A little more in the now?

    Thanks for you time,

    Ben Will