Chicago's One Percent Program Puts Artists to Work

It's the law and a boon for creatives. For municipal buildings, the City of Chicago must set aside 1 percent of the rehab or building budget for artists to create new work.

Photo by: The Cultural Center of Chicago The Chicago Art Program commissioned the Haymarket Memorial by Mary Borgger in 2004, part of the One Percent Ordinance. 

It’s one of the many reasons Chicago is such a good-looking city. When the Percent for Art Program launched in 1978, Chicago was at the forefront of a trend to incorporate commissioned public artworks for renovated municipal buildings and new construction. Today, the program has over 200 copycats across the country

You’ve probably run across the famous works in the city’s 700-plus collection of sculpture and paintings. The striking Pablo Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza or Marc Chagall and Jean Miro’s work which adorns lobbies, the tops of buildings and the streets. For your pleasure, there’s a 2.6-mile South Loop walking tour of the public outdoor art.  

But this town is a flagship for the commissioned work of Chicago artists and you’ll find it all over town – at police stations, libraries and the CTA.  And the budgets are nothing to sneeze at. The 12th District Police Station on South Blue Island Avenue received $181,232.00 for an outdoor sculpture; artist Kris Yokoo worked with a $92,000 budget for mural panels at an Oak Park police station; and artist Tim Anderson created 24 portraits for the Beverly Branch Library at a cost of $45,000. 

For Chicago-based artists wanting to get in on the action the first step is signing up at the city's artist registry. Notices are sent periodically for new works: this past June, a Request for Interest (RFI) was blasted to the list for proposals to create wall-mounted pieces for the two-story, 18,655-square-foot Edgewater Branch Library. 

Who knew government was such an art lover. See more information at the Chicago Art Program website.

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