34th Anniversary of the First ‘Percent for Art’ Installation in NYC ~ June 26, 2019




Image via New York City Percent for Art courtesy of the artist

Did you know that since 1982, one percent of the budget for eligible City-funded construction projects must be spent on public artwork? It is known as the Percent for Art Law, managed by the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

The first artist selected was Jorge Luis Rodriguez who unveiled his installation entitled Growth in the East Harlem Art Park on June 26, 1985. Come along as we celebrate the 34th anniversary of the first Percent for Art Installation

The entrance to the East Harlem Art Park

The original concept for ‘Growth‘ is based on the artists’ childhood memories, evoking images of renewal and growth ~ a first sprout breaking through a plant seed. Growth was dedicated by Mayor Ed Koch, the man who initiated the Percent for Art  program, as shown in the image above with Bess Myerson, the artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez and the Mayor. You will notice the historic Harlem Courthouse in the background.

Article courtesy of the artist

Rodriguez would go on to install sculptures throughout the city, too numerous to mention such as a series of four temporary installations in that very park in 2015. They would be named ~ Birdhouse; fish Spine; Hummingbird; and Palenque. In that same year, the major installation ‘The Oracle of the Past, Present and Future’  would be on view in Tompkins Square Park. In addition, he was selected by the Institute of PR Culture/Instituto de Culture Puertorriqueña to exhibit his beautiful Zebra Bird. Coming back to the U.S. in time to present in Early Encounters, a group exhibition on Governors Island. The thoughtful exhibition (and one of my favorites) A Monument to the 500 Years of the Cultural Reversal of America was installed at The Center for Puerto Rican Studies in East Harlem in 2015. The major installation Atlas of the Third Millennium was unveiled in Marcus Garvey Park in late 2017. This 14-foot tall, galvanized steel sculpture in the form of a universe paid homage to actors, writers, musicians, artists, educators, activists, entrepreneurs and leaders. Atlas, along with an accompanying catalogue, was on view to October 2018.

Growth by Jorge Luis Rodriguez in the East Harlem Art Park alongside the historic Harlem Courthouse

We found some interesting background reading on the program and the first Percent for Art installation by author/historian Michele H. Bogart in her book, A Companion to Public Art,’ where she writes (on p. 396) about criteria for choosing artists for Percent for Art ~ questioning whether to consider emerging or established artists; creating a pool of artists to select from, and selecting panelists to choose the artists. Bogart followed up extensively on this program in her book, Sculpture in Gotham: Art and Urban Renewal in New York City. The Percent for Art Program has gone on to unveil over 300 installations throughout our five boroughs.

‘Growth’ by artist Jorge Luis rodriguez is 14 feet high, 11 feet wide, and 9 feet in diameter.

The East Harlem Art Park has gone on to host several temporary installations through the efforts of Public Art Initiative, including the current installation, Susan Stair: Roots on Fire. 

The East Harlem Art Park is located on East 120th Street and Sylvan Place between Lexington and Third Avenues.

Posters of Growth are available here.