Pittsburgh invests $800,000 in public art, seeks proposals for 18 projects

Public art bug sculpture in Wightman Park, Squirrel Hill - CP PHOTO: AMANDA WALTZ

CP photo: Amanda Waltz
Public art bug sculpture in Wightman Park, Squirrel Hill

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of public art, as the format gives artists and patrons a way to show and view work in safer spaces that allow for social distancing. Now Pittsburgh will embark on an ambitious new initiative to fund and execute a number of public art projects across the city.

Today, the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning Public Art and Civic Design division (PACD) announced that the city has dedicated $800,000 to fund public art projects across 18 neighborhoods, described in a press release as “the largest introduction of new public art in the city for decades.” The effort includes a call for artists in 2021 to commission new public artwork.

The call for artists comes after PACD recently completed a survey of 89 artists to assess how they hear about and participate in public art opportunities, and how those processes can be improved. In an apparent response to this, PACD and the Office of Management and Budget’s Procurement division will host a series of virtual workshops throughout March to inform artists on how to prepare, register, and submit proposals through Beacon, the City’s procurement platform.

PACD will coordinate the art projects with the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure and Department of Public Works, and calls for artists will roll out over the course of the year as projects reach the “appropriate design development stage.”

“We are excited to announce these upcoming opportunities to enhance public art throughout the city,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. “Not only will these projects support our artists, but they also provide an opportunity to creatively reflect the values, character, and identity of our communities.”

The city of Pittsburgh currently maintains nearly 200 public monuments, memorials, and artworks.

Much of the funding for the initiative – $500,000 – comes from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) Art in Parks program, as the first call for artists will seek individuals or teams to create “object-based sculpture or site-specific installations and landscape works” in the Emerald View, Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley parks.

The Art in Parks program is part of the RADical ImPAct grant program launched to celebrate RAD's 25th anniversary.

"The RADical ImPAct grant program was designed to allow our regional assets to dream big about the future of our creative landscape," says Rich Hudic, RAD Executive Director. "We are particularly excited about the Art in Parks program, which will bring large-scale works of public art into our regional parks. We look forward to this project bringing a renewed sense of vitality to our public spaces by making art a part of our everyday lives."

Artists can now submit to the RAD Art in Parks until Tue., March 23.

The Art in Parks submissions will be followed throughout the year by other calls for artists, including for a Bus Rapid Transit project and “percent for art” projects in various City parks and municipal buildings. “Percent for art” refers to a municipal ordinance originally passed in 1977, which stipulates that at least one percent of the budget for municipal construction or the renovation of public buildings should be allocated to funding works of art.

This new focus on the “percent for art” ordinance appears to make up for the city's past failure in enforcing it beginning around 1990. In 2014, Pittsburgh City Paper reported on the efforts of local advocates to get the ordinance back on track and fund more public art. The ordinance has been implemented to fund projects such as the public art sculptures unveiled as part of the Wightman Park redesign in Squirrel Hill, which was officially reopened at the end of October 2020.

More information on submissions can be found on the PACD Current Projects & Opportunities web page